Few issues have commanded the time and attention of the Maine Legislature more than the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor project. I’ve heard from many opponents and supporters of the project, and I believe that well-intentioned people can disagree about whether or not the impacts associated with the corridor are worth a new source of renewable energy to meet our carbon-reduction goals. Mainers will have the opportunity to weigh in on the project this November, and I believe it’s in the public interest to have the best information possible before people vote.

In 2020, project opponents tried to block NECEC by reversing an independent regulatory decision. After the state’s highest court found their efforts to be unconstitutional, opponents went back to the drawing board and proposed three changes to Maine law that would force construction to be halted. It is unclear to me whether this latest effort is constitutional, but what is clear is that it will almost certainly have unintended consequences in other areas of Maine life, including infrastructure development and our clean-energy future. What is being sold as an effort to stop NECEC could actually block other needed energy projects across Maine.

I have reviewed the underlying legislation, and here’s what the ballot initiative would actually do:

• First, the new law would retroactively require two-thirds legislative approval of leases of public reserved lands. This change would apply not only to transmission lines but also to other areas, like railroad development.

• Next, the law would retroactively ban “the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec region.” I have often heard opponents say they would be fine with the project if Maine entered into the contract with Hydro-Quebec to sell the 1,200 megawatts of hydropower to Maine. With a total ban on transmission lines, energy deliveries from Quebec and future renewable-energy development in western Maine would be next to impossible.

• Finally, the law would retroactively require legislative approval of the construction of “high-impact transmission lines” anywhere in Maine. This change would take the process of approving energy projects away from the experts at the Maine Public Utilities Commission and hand it to politicians, potentially affecting every form of energy development requiring new transmission in Maine.

Each of these changes raises separate and distinct issues. It simply doesn’t make sense to cram three separate changes to Maine law into one question when it’s reasonable to assume that Maine voters could have different opinions on the changes proposed by the initiative. For example, a voter could support restrictions on the use of public reserved lands, while opposing restrictions on the construction of new transmission lines that they believe will provide economic or environmental benefits to Maine – or vice versa.

That’s why I wrote to Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows about the wording of the proposed ballot initiative, which she proposed as a single ballot question. The proposed single question fails to comply with Maine law requiring separate ballot questions for each issue raised by a citizens’ initiative [21-A M.R.S. §906(6)(A)]. That’s why I’ve challenged the wording of the ballot question in Cumberland County Superior Court when the language was not changed to reflect the clear need for separate ballot questions.

For these reasons, the initiative should be separated on the ballot into three questions. These questions would present the issues for voter consideration in a clear, concise and direct manner that describes the subject matter of the initiative as simply as possible, as required by Maine law.

If the last few years are any indication, I expect we’ll see and hear a lot about NECEC between now and November. While the goal of this initiative is to block the corridor project, the consequences of these proposed changes to Maine law could reach far beyond this one transmission line. When Mainers weigh in on this project, they should be armed with accurate information and clear, concise questions to vote on, as intended by our laws. No matter how you feel about the corridor, it’s in the best interest of our state for us to get this right.


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