Viewpoint: Lack of transparency in transmission corridor project 

By Becky Bartovics 

Sierra Club Maine is moving forward with its lawsuit, filed in October 2020, seeking the appropriate level of environmental review for the massively destructive NECEC transmission corridor proposed by Central Maine Power. The Club expects to brief the case for the district court in October but does not expect a decision until after the Citizens’ Initiative Referendum in November. Working with our partners, Appalachian Mountain Club and Natural Resources Council of Maine, we will continue to make the case that the Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) decisions to permit the NECEC transmission line were unlawful. 

The lawsuit against the Corps and DOE was filed for three reasons: lack of transparency, inadequate Environmental Impacts Analysis, and the extraordinary climate impacts of energy Canadian hydroelectric dams (megadams) it would supply. Although our opponents would like to dismiss our claims, federal law requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as was done for all the previous large scale transmission applications in other New England states including the most recent Northern Pass in New Hampshire. We began requesting an EIS in 2019, but the Corps and DOE have ignored that request. 

Lack of transparency is evident in closed-door interchanges between the applicants and the agencies which offered little to no public input. The Sierra Club was forced to file a lawsuit against DOE in order to require that agency to produce relevant records pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. Moreover, DOE had promised Senator Susan Collins to hold a public hearing after its draft review for the Presidential Permit was completed, which DOE did not do. 

Since the 1970s, the Clean Water Act has been key to protecting our waters from damaging development. Careful evaluation of this 53-mile corridor, which is in the largest contiguous forest east of the Mississippi with many stream and wetland crossings, should be in the interest of all parties. We believe the Corps arbitrarily limited its purview to a very narrow scope of the project, refusing to evaluate any associated impacts, such as forest fragmentation. Many sensitive and endangered species rely on this area for critical habitat. For instance, these streams provide some of the most important habitat for native brook trout in the eastern United States. 

Lastly, the habitat destruction of megadams is widespread. The boreal forest, a major carbon sink in the Northern Hemisphere, has been irreparably harmed. Huge shallow reservoirs not only prevent the spring freshet from providing life-giving snowmelt downstream, but heat reservoir water that, when released, causes huge plumes of warmed water downstream and into the ocean. Additionally, the rise and fall of water levels cause enormous release of methane, in some cases as much as a coal fired power plant, while releases of methylmercury into the water poison the food chain. The extent of the mercury poisoning is so great that hydropower companies warn residents not to eat any local seafood. Their staple diet for thousands of years has been removed thus causing a significant social and environmental justice issue. 

Becky Bartovics is a Sierra Club Maine volunteer leader and lives in North Haven. 

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