March, 8, 2021 By Ramon du Houx AUGUSTA – Certification of the citizens’ initiative effort “An Act To Require Legislative Approval of Certain Transmission Lines, Require Legislative Approval of Certain Transmission Lines and Facilities and Other Projects on Public Reserved Lands and Prohibit the Construction of Certain Transmission Lines in the Upper Kennebec Region” is complete. Secretary of State Shenna […]
March, 8, 2021
By Ramon du Houx
AUGUSTA – Certification of the citizens’ initiative effort “An Act To Require Legislative Approval of Certain Transmission Lines, Require Legislative Approval of Certain Transmission Lines and Facilities and Other Projects on Public Reserved Lands and Prohibit the Construction of Certain Transmission Lines in the Upper Kennebec Region” is complete.
Secretary of State Shenna Bellows confirmed that the effort has enough valid signatures to move forward.
The proponents of this legislation submitted 25,058 petitions with 95,622 signatures to the Elections Division on January 21, 2021. The Elections Division of the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions has completed the process of certifying the petitions and found 80,506 valid signatures, while 15,116 were not valid. A minimum of 63,067 signatures from registered Maine voters is required.
The Maine Legislature will now consider this initiative. Legislators can choose to enact the bill as written or to send it forward to a statewide vote on the November 2, 2021 ballot.
Petitions for this effort were issued for circulation on Oct. 30, 2020. According to the proposed bill summary, this legislation seeks to require the approval of the Legislature for the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines and provides that high-impact electric transmission lines crossing or utilizing public lands must be approved by 2/3 of all the members elected to each House of the Legislature.
This initiated bill also prohibits the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region. These provisions apply retroactively to September 16, 2020, the date of filing of this initiative. This initiated bill also requires the approval of 2/3 of all the members elected to each House of the Legislature for any use of public lands for transmission lines and facilities and certain other projects. This provision applies retroactively to September 16, 2014.
UPDATE – March 17, 2021
Justice Michaela Murphy ruled on March 17, 2021 that the Maine Bureau of Public Lands didn’t have the authority to lease a 1-mile section to the New England Clean Energy Connect without first determining whether the lease would substantially alter the land. The rest of the corridor is owned by Central Maine Power.
Murphy’s ruling triggers a review of the state’s lease of a small section of land that’s part of a proposed 145-mile power line aimed at bringing Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts. A formal assessment of the project’s impact on the land, as required by the Maine Constitution now must take place. A finding of significant alterations would trigger a legislative review and a two-thirds majority approval to proceed.
“If BPL determines that a proposed use of public lands results in ‘substantial alteration,’ the legislative branch must be given the final say on the issue,” wrote Justice Murphy.
Wednesday’s ruling came in a civil action against Andy Cutko, director of the Maine Bureau of Public Lands. The bureau granted a 25-year lease that was later renegotiated to lift the annual payments from $5,000 to $65,000.
The CMP corridor has a number of issues the state legislature is looking into, as well as Congressman Golden.
Congressman Golden recently submitted a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Energy, asking for the Presidential permit to be reevaluated to allow the people of Maine to be afforded the same opportunity to have a voice in the Central Maine Power (CMP’s) electricity power project as residents of NH and VT had on similar projects.
This is the letter:
March 4, 2021
The Honorable Jennifer Granholm Secretary U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, S.W. Washington, DC 20585
Dear Secretary Granholm:
I write to express my concerns and request an agency review of the issuance of a Presidential permit, as well as the accompanying Environmental Assessment (EA)/Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) by the Department of Energy (DOE) to Central Maine Power (CMP) for the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project. Given the anticipated impacts this new transmission line will have on Maine’s forest and wetland ecosystems, as well as on the communities along the route, it is troubling that the permit was granted by the previous Administration without a more thorough National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and robust public participation consistent with the process followed by the Department for similar projects in New England.
The NECEC project consists of a transmission line that is approximately 145 miles long – a third of which would require the placement of new transmission lines through undeveloped forests in Maine’s North Woods, fragmenting the largest contiguous temperate forest in North America. According to CMP’s Section 404 Clean Water Act application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the company reports that the construction of new transmission lines will impact an estimated 263 wetlands and 115 streams. In fact, CMP made clear that the project will “unavoidably result in permanent and temporary wetland fill” from the establishment of access road and structure preparation areas, travel lanes for vegetation clearing, conductor puller and tensioner locations, guard structures, and guy anchors. In addition, it is expected that forest in wetlands and vernal pool habitat will be removed to adhere to clearance specifications for overhead transmission lines. The areas in which these activities will occur are in essential wildlife habitat for several endangered species and could adversely impact recreation and tourism benefits to local economies.
With the high level of public interest in this project given the potential environmental and economic impacts to communities throughout northern Maine, Bruce J. Walker, Assistant Secretary at the Office of Electricity sent U.S. Senator Susan Collins a November 8, 2019 letter stating, “In the case of NECEC, DOE intends to make a draft EA available for a 30-day public comment period to provide more time for input by your concerned constituents and local experts.” You can therefore understand the frustration my constituents and I share that DOE reneged their previous commitment and instead issued a final EA in conjunction with the Presidential permit on January 14, 2021 without any sort of opportunity for public engagement.
It is important to note that the federal permitting process of similarly scaled regional projects, such as the Northern Pass Transmission Line in New Hampshire and the New England Clean Power Link project in Vermont, afforded impacted communities several opportunities to participate in public hearings with DOE as part of the agency’s NEPA review. As with the NECEC, both of these proposed projects involved cross-border transmission lines from Canada that extended over one hundred miles into their respective states. For the Northern Pass Transmission Line in New Hampshire, DOE conducted four public hearings and in Vermont, DOE organized two public hearings for the Clean Power Link project.
The Presidential permit for the NECEC project makes clear that it can be “modified or revoked by the President of the United States without notice, or by DOE after public notice, and may be amended by DOE after proper application thereto.” In an effort to ensure a transparent and thorough permitting process, I urge you to reevaluate the issuance of the Presidential permit and provide Mainers with the opportunity to engage with your agency through a public comment process that is merited for the significance of this project.
Jared Golden Member of Congress
The Clean Power Link project is apparently being rushed through permitting process. That has lawmakers concerned about how best to protect Maine’s public lands.
On Thursday, March 18, the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will hold a public hearing on Senator Russell Black’s bill to protect Maine’s public lands. This hearing will take place at the same time as the Board of Environmental Protection’s meeting where they will discuss Central Maine Power’s (CMP’s) 700 page ‘minor revision’ application.
What: LD 471: An Act To Require Legislative Approval for Certain Leases of Public Lands
In 2014, the State signed a lease with Central Maine Power for 36 acres that bisect a parcel of public land in Somerset County between Johnson Mountain and Wilson Pond for construction of the NECEC Corridor.
Even though the Corridor would significantly alter the value and use of the public land, and destroy critical wildlife habitat, it was granted behind closed doors and without the required legislative input for only $1,400 per year or $39 per acre. In 2015, yet another backroom deal was brokered with CMP, this time for $3,600 per year, or $100 per acre.
A third secret lease was again negotiated by the current administration in 2020, again without the required legislative approval.
In 1993, 72 percent of Maine voters to amend the Maine Constitution to include Article IX, Section 23 to the Maine Constitution, which states: “State park land, public lots or other real estate held by the State for conservation or recreation purposes and designated by legislation implementing this section may not be reduced or its uses substantially altered except on the vote of ⅔ of all the members elected to each house. The proceeds from the sale of such land must be used to purchase additional real estate in the same county for the same purposes.
The next year, the Legislature implemented this constitutional amendment.
Even though the law, and our Constitution are very clear, two different administrations entered into illicit leases with CMP for construction of the unpopular NECEC Corridor.
This bill simply reaffirms that the Bureau of Public Lands must secure a ⅔ vote for the approval of their lease with CMP.
On Monday, March 15, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will hold a public hearing at 9:00 AM on two bills to prohibit foreign contributions in Maine referendum elections.
Central Maine Power lobbied and advertised on behalf of Hydro Quebec to push through the electric corridor, which violates laws. Two bills will be heard concerning this issue on March 15, 2021.
Public hearing for LD194: An Act To Prohibit Contributions, Expenditures and Participation by Foreign Government-owned Entities To Influence Referenda and LD 479: An Act To Ban Foreign Campaign Contributions and Expenditures in Maine Elections
Hydro Quebec (HQ) funneled an unprecedented $9.2 million into their PAC last year.
Federal law prohibits this sort of foreign interference in elections, but HQ has discovered a loophole in Maine, and they’re exploiting it to encourage Mainers on how to vote on the CMP “energy corridor.”
This sort of foreign interference is also illegal in Canada.
HQ is a Crown Corporation solely owned by the Province of Quebec. Each year, they share billions in dividends with the government as their sole shareholder.
Last year, HQ was assessed a $35k fine last year by ethics after pleading guilty to spending $100k to influence Maine voters before registering as a PAC, a clear violation of Maine’s campaign law. This fine is the second-largest campaign violation fine in our state’s history.
After facing scrutiny, HQ changed their PAC address from Montreal to Hartford, CT in an attempt to seem less foreign. The treasurer and Principal Officer still remain in Montreal.
Last year, HQ misused images of Baxter State Park, a Maine treasure, in an ad that was strongly rebuked by Friends of Baxter State Park.
While spending tens of millions of dollars to influence Maine voters and lawmakers, HQ has never provided verifiable evidence about their environmental claims regarding NECEC.
HQ has exposed a weakness in Maine’s election law that needs to be fixed. Today, it’s the government of Quebec. But now that they’ve shown that this loophole exists and they’ve gotten away with exploiting it, they’ve set a dangerous precedent for referendums to come.
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