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Deep State: In the North Woods Power-Line Fight, Who Will Triumph? Insiders or Outsiders?

Thursday, April 25, 2019 6:52 AM

Whether CMP’s unpopular transmission line should be built through the Maine North Woods—a policy question—is being debated widely. But less has been discussed about the politics of the battle. Who’s fighting whom was the subject of Part One of this two-part series. Now we ask: Who is likely to win, and why?

PART TWO:

Insiders Often Beat Outsiders, But ...


He often sits with a group of working-class, middle-aged women and men wearing white “No CMP Corridor” T-shirts. Duane Hanson — thin, longish blond hair, 65, wearing a green-and-black-checked wool shirt — is a fixture at legislative hearings on bills dealing with Central Maine Power Co.’s planned 145-mile transmission-line corridor through the state.

The line would take 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Canada to Massachusetts, cutting across 53 miles of mostly uninhabited North Woods. Theoretically, it would contribute to the Bay State’s turn to renewable energy to help curb global warming. But critics say it’s “dirty hydro” because huge forests were destroyed to provide reservoirs for the Canadian dams. Intact forests absorb from the atmosphere the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. ...


Gov. Mills, too, happens to be from an insider family, a “moderate” Republican one. Her father was United States attorney for Maine. Her brother Peter Mills, a former legislator, is Maine Turnpike Authority director. He also was one of the founding board members of Western Mountains & Rivers.
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Who Are the Insiders?

Political insiders are officeholders, political-party leaders, top bureaucrats, and the people who influence them such as lobbyists for powerful interests. Insiders are privy to knowledge that outsiders aren’t. Outsiders and their usually ad hoc groups are in varying degrees the opposite: the unconnected and unconsulted.

There’s constant exchange among insider groups — ex-legislators become lobbyists, lobbyists become bureaucrats, and so on. Taken together, they’re what the Russians under communism called the Apparat, the Apparatus — interconnected people who decide things.

(Sound like “deep state” territory? Discerning readers have noted that by calling my column Deep State I’m having fun with that right-wing conspiracy theory. The Maine Apparat has a resemblance in form to the paranoid fantasy of the deep state, such as in its back-room dealings, but in content it’s largely corporate in orientation — not left-wing. It’s also variegated and not all-powerful. For me, my column’s title signifies my intention to dig deep into Maine issues.)

The Apparatus tends to be corporate because — to stick to local explanations — corporate lobbyists swarm the State House and the rest of state government. There are 249 lobbyists currently registered with the state. There are only 186 legislators. A few years ago, I calculated that, roughly, two-thirds of the lobbyists represented corporations.

CMP has seven that I could find listed with the state Ethics Commission. In the case of the corridor, there are lobbyists for other companies promoting it. And a fair number of lobbyists are working against it.
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Jonathan Carter, a past Green Party candidate for governor, decries “rich armchair environmentalists” touting “eco-balancing” in the face of the enormity of climate change. ...

 

Who Will Win?

If the state DEP, the Land Use Planning Commission, or an approving agency on the federal level or in Massachusetts said no, that would probably be the end for the corridor, although appeals are possible.

Jerry Reid, DEP commissioner, decides for his department. Environmental groups supported him at his confirmation, but in practice decisions in state-government departments often go along with the wishes of the ultimate executive authority. Gov. Mills is in favor of the corridor. A decision is expected in the fall.
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Political scientist Jim Melcher, of the University of Maine at Farmington, called Mills the “most conservative” candidate in the 2018 Democratic primary. To her peril, the Democratic Party is continually moving toward the corporate-critical left — toward where issue polls have for years shown the American people to be. As Bernie Sanders showed in the 2016 presidential race, there’s a large population of disgruntled outsiders susceptible to lefty arguments.

With Mills’ corridor position and her no-new-taxes pledge — firming up Republican former Gov. Paul LePage’s tax cuts for the rich — she keeps risking holding on to the Democrats’ core. With the corridor she also may alienate independents and will further alienate Republicans, since the poll showed they’re even more opposed to the corridor than Democrats.

On the Maine Public show “Maine’s Political Pulse,” reporter Steve Mistler called Mills’ endorsement of the corridor “a real political trap.” He is correct.

Maybe she sincerely believes the CMP corridor is best for Maine despite what Maine people believe. Maybe she can be convinced otherwise. But just looking at the politics, the logical strategy for her is to find a way to get out of the trap. Perhaps the DEP or LD 640’s study will provide her with that.

But she’s the ultimate insider now and has been an insider for a long time — as attorney general, state representative, and maybe even from birth. It might be hard for her to break out. Insiders tend to consult other insiders.

Regardless, on this issue the outsiders have a very good chance.

 

 

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Deep State: Why the Deeply Unpopular CMP Power-Line Corridor Through the North Woods May Nevertheless Be Built

Thursday, April 18, 2019 6:53 AM
 

Whether CMP’s giant transmission line should be built through the Maine North Woods — a policy question — is being debated widely. But less has been publicly discussed about the politics of the battle. Who’s fighting whom, and who’s likely to win? That’s the subject of this two-part series.

PART ONE:

Not the usual opponents

Last week the state Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved Central Maine Power Co.’s plan to cut a huge, high-voltage transmission-line corridor southeast from the Canadian border through 53 miles of the North Woods near Jackman. The corridor would be 150 feet wide but eventually could be doubled in width.

The line would then extend its 95-foot towers for another 92 miles south along existing, widened CMP rights-of-way to connect to the New England power grid at Lewiston. It would bring 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts. ...


In the background on this issue, CMP itself is unpopular because of months of questionable electric bills sent to thousands of customers that have resulted in PUC investigations and a lawsuit alleging fraud. Many customers also have felt the company’s responses to power outages have been inadequate. Reacting to these criticisms, CMP has apologized a little and denied a lot. A recent Bangor Daily News report revealed that the billing problems are continuing.

Hardly adding to its popularity, CMP is no longer CMP, in the sense that it has become a possession of the global corporate giant Iberdrola, headquartered in Bilbao, Spain. ...

A sore point also is that Maine would get none of the new power from Canada, though the state might benefit if the project lowers the price of electricity in New England by replacing higher-priced fossil-fuel plants. Plus, after demands from various interest groups and state officials, CMP agreed during the PUC proceedings to provide $258 million worth of miscellaneous benefits to Maine people over 40 years. ...

Business versus environmentalists?

This battle is not typical. Both the business community and environmentalists are divided. ...

Republicans versus Democrats?

James Melcher, a political-science professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, said the corridor issue “doesn’t break down in a clean line” between liberals and conservatives. That’s an understatement. For an environmental issue, to have 71 percent of Republicans oppose the project statewide, as the Critical Insights poll found, compared to 56 percent of Democrats, is nothing short of startling. ...

Urban versus rural?

Professor Melcher told me he felt “an awful lot” of the opposition “has to do with the energy going to Massachusetts.” And many people “don’t like the aesthetics” of a giant power line in the North Woods.

These are factors, for sure, but the fact that there’s such deep, bipartisan opposition in rural Franklin and Somerset counties compared to the more urban and suburban southern counties (though it’s unpopular there, too) is revealing of something more profound.

One corridor adversary, Jonathan Carter, the former Green Party candidate for governor — who lives in the shadow of the western mountains near North New Portland — has thoughts on this unusual political fight.

Carter, a botanist, bemoans that environmental battles in Maine and elsewhere are for the most part about development of what’s left of the environment and what trade-offs can be obtained rather than about conservation and preservation. He asks: Why not make more investments to lower electrical consumption? Why not have more public transportation?

“There’s no room for trade-offs anymore,” he said, about global warming — rather than big windmills and transmission lines feeding consumption and destroying the wilds, the forest should be kept as intact as possible because trees massively soak up carbon dioxide. ...

Although in Maine there are development-restriction easements on some of the “working forest,” and we now have the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the society-changing conservation efforts that Carter argues for are not much discussed. No one is asking Massachusetts citizens, for example, to use less energy as an alternative to building the transmission line to feed their energy appetite.

But the rural Maine people so opposed to the corridor unapologetically want to conserve some of what’s left of “the old Maine,” as the gentleman from Yarmouth dismissively put it. They are conservatives in the best sense. Yes, aesthetics is part of it. And maybe in the context of fighting global warming, conservation and preservation are not such bad ideas.

 

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Portland school budget heads to April 8 board vote

 

PORTLAND — Debate this week could have a significant impact on the proposed $118 million school budget.

The School Board was scheduled to hold a public hearing Tuesday, after The Forecaster’s deadline. There will also be a joint meeting of the city and school finance committees at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at City Hall, before the School Board votes on the budget next week. ...

During a previous meeting of the city and school finance committees on March 27, Superintendent Xavier Botana said there were several budget drivers in the fiscal year that begins July 1, including an increase in debt service of just over $1 million for the first year of the Lyseth Elementary School renovation project. ...

Both Botana and Anna Trevorrow, chairwoman of the School Board’s Finance Committee, said all of the spending in the proposed budget supports the School Department’s strategic plan, known as the Portland Promise. ...

The council is expected to hold a final vote on the proposed school budget on May 20. That proposal will go to voters for approval in a June 11 referendum.

 

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http://www.theforecaster.net/portland-school-budget-heads-to-april-8-board-vote/

Portland finance officials get first look at proposed school budget

The district's $118 million spending plan would increase the school part of the tax rate by 5.4%.

 

Letter to the Editor: Mills is wrong to try to Eco-balance

Carter Home

 

What a total disappointment that the Mills administration has opted to follow the same old model of compromising the health of Maine's environment away. This is called eco-balancing and it employs the notion that CMP's offer to provide $248 million over 40 years will provide a benefit that is equal to or greater than the negative impacts of the 150 mile transmission line that will deliver “dirty power” from Quebec Hydro.

Mainers should be outraged that CMP is calling Hydro-Quebec power clean renewable power. (simply a lie – beyond fake news) I have visited the source of this power in Northern Quebec. It is a land of utter destruction. Rivers have been reversed and drained in order to create vast power head reservoirs. Thousands of square acres of forests have been destroyed, subsistent Native Canadian hunting and fishing grounds have been submerged, and thousands of caribou drowned. The once mighty Churchill Falls is nothing but a trickle. Canada seems to have ignored the lessons of landscape scale dam construction. More dam construction is planned for northern Quebec and Labrador. Buying this power will only encourage more dam construction.

The horrific landscape destruction, the clear cutting, the creation of flood basins and building of transmission lines all reduce carbon sequestration. In addition, the flooded areas have become huge methane (30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas) emitters from the anaerobic decay of massive amounts of detritus and soil organic compounds. When CMP and Hydro-Quebec say that this project will reduce carbon emissions the equivalent of 280,000 vehicles – it is totally a distortion of the truth. This energy is not clean energy. If allowed to transit Maine, it will mar permanently the Maine forest landscape.

Janet Mills is right when she says "we cannot afford to do nothing," but what she doesn't seem to understand is that if we are serious about mitigating climate change, authorizing a transmission line that will destroy Maine's forest and deliver greenhouse gas producing power to Massachusetts is not the answer. For too long, the status quo has been to deal in trade offs. Every time the environment is compromised there is one half less of healthy ecosphere left. Take the number 1, cut it in half what is left, one half, continue this process just 10 times and only 1/1024 is left. There is no room for compromising anymore – we have lost so much already.

Yes, investing in heat pump technology makes sense as does expanding the use of electric vehicles, but this needs to be accomplished, not as a trade off, but as a legislative action. As far as money for Franklin County communities and the offer of lower electric rates, these are just out and out bribes. In fact, if we are serious about climate change, we should not encourage more electrical consumption by offering lower rates. On the contrary we should be investing in ways to reduce consumption.

The truth be told there is no turning back from the ongoing catastrophic crisis of climate change. We have passed the tipping point and it is virtually impossible to reverse the oncoming changes. What we can do is make intelligent decisions to mitigate more extreme impacts and invest in adaption and survival strategies. The CMP corridor now being endorsed by Mills is taking us in completely the wrong direction.

Study after study has shown that the cheapest and best way to reduce carbon emissions is to protect forests. Over the last several decades there has been an effort to quantify the value of non-market goods and services provided by forests annually – this is often called natural capital. Natural capital’s currency included all ecological service: carbon sequestration, disease regulation, water filtration and purification, flood control, pollinator habitat, nutrient recycling, pest control, soil erosion prevention, air filtration, shade and cooling, and soil formation. Generally speaking half of the natural capital value of forests are related to carbon sequestration and storage in both trees and soils. The other half of the natural capital value is driven by ecological services related to air purification, water quality and water storage (TD Economics & Nature Conservancy of Canada, 2017)

Mills is wrong if she thinks allowing and supporting the destruction of forests in the production and distribution of electricity is sound policy. Her decision to employ the notion of eco-balancing is flawed and will only exacerbate the climate change crisis.

It is not too late for her to reverse course. We must encourage her to think clearly.

Jonathan Carter
Dir. Forest Ecology Network
Former Green Party Candidate for Governor
Lexington Township

 

THIS EDITORIAL WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT:

 

http://www.dailybulldog.com/db/opinion/letter-to-the-editor-mills-is-wrong-to-try-to-eco-balance/

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