It was a cry for help, laced with capital letters and exclamation points and oozing frustration. It came from a local citizen trying to do his civic duty and find out what Question 1 on the Nov. 2 referendum election ballot is all about. It did not go well.
There are three questions on that ballot. Question 1 is the hot topic, generally known as the “CMP Corridor” or the “Clean Energy Corridor,” but as our frustrated citizen points out, neither of those terms is mentioned in the ballot question.
Question 1 asks if we would like to “ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region…” So “high-impact transmission lines” is what the ballot calls the CMP/Clean Energy corridor.
The proposed transmission line would bring hydropower from Canada to Massachusetts. Governor Janet Mills negotiated a deal for Mainers to get some of that power at a reduced rate, plus $140 million over 40 years, dedicated to a “rate relief” fund for Mainers. The Maine PUC found that the project would reduce Maine electricity costs by about $63 million per year.
The transmission line would be about 145 miles long and 150 feet wide. About 100 miles of it would be on an existing utility right-of-way, but about 50 miles would pass through untouched forest.
Supporters of the project cite jobs (for development and construction of the lines), increased local spending (due to money saved on lower electricity bills), a $50 million “low-income customer benefits fund” to help those with limited resources pay for energy, discounted power for some Maine customers and an $18 million tax revenue increase for towns along the power route.
Opponents mention “deforestation and forest fragmentation,” use of pesticides to keep the right-of-way free of vegetation, loss of the carbon-sequestration benefit from trees cut along the pipeline, loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity. So, the first choice is do you want that pipeline or not?
The question continues: “…and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine…” OK, this means a project like this could not be permitted solely through the executive branch but would have to go to the Legislature for approval. This would put the ultimate decisions in the hands of the people, or at least the people’s people. Is that good? It would politicize these decisions. Is that bad? That’s your second choice.
Let’s say people who live near a proposed project are all in favor of it. It could bring benefits to areas of the state not exactly brimming with economic opportunity. But their legislators would be easily outgunned by far more populous areas of the state whose main concerns may differ. Or vice versa: local people don’t like the proposal but others who live at a distance are fine with it. The area most affected has to live with the Legislature’s decision.
Here’s the third choice: “…and to require the Legislature, retroactively to 2014, to approve by a two-thirds vote such projects using public land.” Retroactively? A Maine Beacon article explains retroactivity like this: “The retroactivity clauses were included in the ballot question because construction on the project is already underway and it is illegal for laws to target a single project.” In 2014, Governor Paul LePage signed a lease to CMP to construct a section of the transmission line.
A citizen’s initiative can be brought before the voters, by the voters, by way of a petition that must carry signatures equal to 10 percent of those voting in the last gubernatorial election. The roughly 63,000 signatures for this petition cost over $2 million to gather. Been to your mailbox lately? Spending by those who support the question is over $16 million. Those who oppose it have spent over $55 million.
Here’s the final question posed by our concerned citizen. “I have discovered that if you are for “it” you need to vote “no”!! If you are against “it” you need to vote “yes”!!” That’s right. The question is do you want to “ban the construction” of the transmission line/CMP Corridor/Clean Energy Corridor. Yes, you want to ban it, or no, you don’t.
So, there are three different issues, all in the same ballot question. Pick which part you care about most, vote “yes” if you don’t want the pipeline and “no” if you do. With no president, governor or legislators on the ballot, turnout is likely to be low. If you are among those who stay home, you have no business raising objections after the voting is over.
Next week we’ll look at questions 2 and 3. In the meantime, pop “Maine Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election” into your search engine, put your feet up and get a head start. Class dismissed.
Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.