An important lesson from the decisive electoral blow to the CMP Corridor through passage of Question 1 is lost in the rhetoric on both sides.

To paraphrase a well-worn rock lyric, how can you win when everybody’s right? To explain what’s overlooked, I turn to the likewise explosive issue of nuclear power and the work my then-colleagues at Washington State University did over three decades ago in a ground-zero area for that issue.

The future of nuclear power had recently been dashed by public distrust there and nationwide amid other justifiably important issues like true costs and safety. Yet at the same time, we were sliding into the abyss of carbon-fueled-emissions we are being swallowed by today.

The colleagues, economists and environmental scientists, asked the question: how does a country like Japan succeed in siting nuclear power facilities? Turns out in Japan the then-builders of such facilities and the government engage in dialogue about compensation with those most affected communities, recognizing that there are real impacts to some while there are broad but diffuse benefits to many. And compensation then happens.

This is not to say that an environmental change like the corridor can be bargained away or that there is substitutability.  But it is true that the rhetoric all around the corridor has avoided such engagement especially around the highly vocalized issue that the power benefits go out of state while the facility’s burdens remain in Maine. And that is exactly the same problem.

To explain this my colleagues Rodney Fort, Robert Rosenman and William Budd turned to prospect theory, one of the concepts brought to light by economists like Nobel laureate Dan Kahneman.


A prospect cost such as from a perceived insult or harm to the environment or risk to health or even to equity is a real economic cost even if it hasn’t been realized yet. Knowledgeable conflict mediators are aware of this at least implicitly (I trained many about it explicitly). It is more than public relations, spinning or therapy – it means something of value has to be acknowledged and possibly (no guarantees) resolved in exchange to reach agreement.

The missing element in the hurricane of claims in the corridor conflict is this issue and the lack of engagement about it. It is putatively unfair. This lesson has been learned and then ignored in too many siting conflicts for major facilities and why so few get built today. It needs to be taken to heart to navigate the projects we’ll need to cope with climate change.

Hindsight is great. But as a mediator, I wonder if a discussion of how the corridor’s energy impacts could include offered investment in Maine’s needs might have addressed this not-to-be-dismissed issue of fairness. Maine has needs for vehicle-charging access, fleet conversion and other concrete benefits that could be in exchange for accommodating a larger regional and national need. This does not dismiss issues of environmental impact such as landscape fragmentation, but the tendency to ignore out-front negotiation of benefit issues is too often overlooked.

The rhetoric of Question 1 campaign demonstrates that yet again. While opponents of the corridor can celebrate victory, Gov. Mills is right that an opportunity to improve New England access to power has been lost. We can argue the climate benefits involved. But let me say based on long experience across the nation that how such hard issues are approached makes a difference and require mechanisms for hard, well-represented discussions, not wars of words.

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