A coalition of business and union groups backing Central Maine Power’s $1 billion transmission line proposal has won the support of nearly a dozen former state environmental officials and advocates.

Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs – which comprises individuals, businesses, labor unions and trade associations backing the proposal to link hydroelectric power generated in Canada with customers in Massachusetts – announced on Monday a statement of support from a group that includes former commissioners of the Maine Department of Conservation, two former executive directors of the Natural Resources Council of Maine and a former president of the Maine Audubon Society.

But some environmental groups oppose the project, arguing that it will harm the Maine woods with no tangible benefit to Mainers, while other environmentalists don’t echo the enthusiasm voiced by those whose support for the project was announced Monday.

Some environmental advocates say the apparent division among environmental groups is an indication of how efforts to reduce carbon emissions will involve tradeoffs that might make sense globally but won’t be popular locally.

The 145-mile corridor through Maine has been approved by the Public Utilities Commission and the Land Use Planning Commission, but the project is still pending before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Many of those who signed on in support of the project were more involved with environmental issues years ago, such as Richard Barringer, who headed by Department of Conservation until 1981 and was director of the Maine State Planning Office until 1986. Barringer, who did not return a message seeking comment on his decision to back the project, is now professor emeritus at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine.

Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs is funded largely by business groups that support the $1 billion project. In addition to the economic benefits, the organization’s statement said that bringing in hydroelectric power will reduce carbon emissions and help transition the region to the use of more renewable energy sources. The electricity will be supplied to customers in Massachusetts and state officials there said it will be a key part of a goal to reduce fossil fuel-based sources of power.

Supporters “accept that there are going to be trade-offs” with the project, said Benjamin Dudley, director of Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs. In addition to Barringer, signers included Sherry Huber, who was president of the Maine Audubon Society from 1971-75, and Orlando Delogu, a professor emeritus at the University of Maine School of Law, member of the Maine Board of Environmental Protection from 1969-74 and a former Portland city councilor and planning board member.

Lloyd Irland, director of the Maine Board of Public Lands from 1979-81 and Maine State Economist from 1981-85, said he signed the statement because the corridor could provide a more resilient power grid for Maine and because rejecting the plan would mean turning away a huge investment in the state.

“I can’t think of anyone else who wants to invest a billion dollars in the state,” Irland said, and blocking the plan might hurt Maine’s business environment.

Irland also said opposition to the proposal has included “apocalyptic rhetoric” that has been “overblown.”

“We don’t build power lines because we like them, we build them because we need them,” he said. “A lot of these issues aren’t black and white.”

That’s why some groups aren’t happy with the the statement of support issued Monday, even with those organizations that haven’t adopted a formal position of opposition or support.

“There has been some difference of opinion on this,” said Kathleen Meil, director of policy and partnerships with the Maine Conservation Alliance. “I know that’s the understatement of the year.”

The alliance hasn’t adopted a formal position on the project, Meil said, and wants to preserve its independence when future projects come forward. She said siting for future clean energy projects will likely be controversial and the organization recognizes the conflict between reducing carbon emissions and local impacts.

“This is where the global impacts of climate change and the local consequences of climate change really collide,” she said. “This is not an easy situation. You see that with different respected organizations and people who have taken different stands on this.”

“Almost any energy source has positives and negatives,” said Dot Kelly, co-chair of the energy team of the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, which formally opposes the project. “Clean is very non-specific.”

Kelly said regulators have not explored alternatives and haven’t explained why the plan for Maine came about as it did. For instance, she said, plans in other states called for the line to be buried underground, but that won’t be the case, except for where the line will cross the Kennebec River.

“It’s an effort not to answer the hard questions,” she said, and “the alternatives have not been evaluated” by supporters.

Others sought to make clear that those who signed the statement no longer speak for the organizations they once headed.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, which has been leading the opposition to the project, declined to comment on Monday’s statement. The NRCM has ties to three of those who signed on in support, including two former executive directors.

Henry Whittemore, executive director of Maine Timber Research and Environmental Education Foundation (Maine TREE), said the supporters’ backing of the project reflect individual decisions. Specifically, he said, Sherry Huber’s decision to support the project was her’s alone.

The organization, which Huber helped create, hasn’t taken a position on the corridor plan, he said.

“Whatever comments she made are as an individual,” he said.

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