Tuesday November 2nd is a day that many Mainers have been waiting for. It is Election Day, and Mainers will finally have an opportunity to express their position on the controversial Central Maine Power (CMP) transmission corridor. Voting Yes on Question 1 will be a vote to terminate the CMP corridor across western Maine forestlands.
Voting Yes on Question 1 also is an opportunity to send a message to CMP in opposition to the scare tactics and dirty tricks that it has used along with Hydro-Quebec, who together have spent an obscene amount of money—more than $70 million over the past two years—telling Mainers how they should vote on this project.
Maine people know a bill of goods when they see it. And they recognize misinformation, intimidation, and desperation – and that’s what we’ve been seeing recently in CMP’s campaign.
Voting Yes on 1 is the right way to send a message to CMP that its behavior is unacceptable. We encourage you to consider Question 1 a referendum on CMP.
Since the election falls so close to Halloween, the Natural Resources Council of Maine has compiled our top 10 list of CMP’s dirty tricks and scare tactics.
#1: Defeating an independent climate study
One of CMP’s most revealing dirty tricks: CMP says the transmission corridor would provide benefits for the climate, but this claim has been seriously disputed for years and CMP blocked an independent study to analyze the climate benefits.
In 2019, the Maine Legislature was on track to pass a bill requiring an independent study that would look at Hydro-Quebec’s entire energy system to determine if the CMP corridor would provide any new climate benefits. More than 100 people provided testimony in support of the bill. It passed out of Committee by a vote of 10-3, and then passed the Senate by a vote of 30-4.
Then CMP hired 10 lobbyists to defeat the bill in the House. Clearly, they couldn’t stand the idea of an independent analysis that might have revealed that CMP and Hydro-Quebec were lying, so the company exerted maximum pressure at the State House to kill the bill. CMP mobilized an army of lobbyists to kill a study bill. We would have had the results of that study two years ago.
#2: Blocking discussion of climate issues during environmental permitting
CMP blocked NRCM, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and Trout Unlimited from even talking about climate emissions during the environmental permitting process for this project.
Our groups tried when the permit came before the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), but CMP’s lawyer said that discussing climate issues was inappropriate because “nowhere has CMP stated that the Project’s purpose and need includes greenhouse gas emissions reductions.”
Unfortunately, CMP prevailed and again, scrutiny about whether the project actually provides any benefit to the climate, was blocked.
#3: Hiring a private investigator to harass petition signature gatherers
In 2020, when Maine citizens were pursuing their Constitutional right to gather signatures for a ballot measure, CMP hired a male private investigator to tail mostly female signature gatherers.
CMP spent $100,000 on a private detective firm, Merrill’s Investigations, to stalk people entering and leaving field offices, take photos of petition gatherers, monitor personal Facebook pages, and dig up personal information, including where one of the workers lived, her automobile registration, her occupation, and called employers to gather more information.
CMP has also spent more than $130,000 on a California-based Opposition Research firm, VR Research, to dig into the personal lives of grassroots volunteers who are leading the opposition to the project.
#4: Protecting a loophole for foreign meddling in Maine’s elections
This one strikes at the integrity of our elections. In late 2019, Hydro-Quebec registered a Ballot Measure Committee with the Maine Ethics Commission so it could spend money to influence Maine voters. Lawmakers rightfully got concerned because Hydro-Quebec is wholly owned by the Government of Quebec, which means that a foreign government was going to spend money on a political campaign to influence voters. This type of activity is not allowed for candidate elections but a loophole in the state ethics laws allows foreign governments to spend whatever they want.
Legislators filed a bill to close this loophole and end foreign meddling in our ballot measure campaigns, yet Hydro-Quebec continued to escalate its campaign activities in Maine. CMP, with the help of one of Maine’s highest-paid lobbyists, fought to protect the loophole. As a result, Hydro-Quebec has now been allowed to spend $24 million to influence how Mainers will vote on Question 1. This spending by Hydro-Quebec alone is more than twice the amount ever spent by a ballot measure campaign in Maine.
#5: Securing an illegal lease behind closed doors
This dirty trick should offend everyone who cares about the integrity of Maine’s public lands. In 2014, behind closed doors, the Maine Bureau of Public Lands and CMP negotiated an illegal lease to allow the CMP corridor to cross public lands. It was illegal because the Maine Constitution requires a two-thirds vote by the Legislature if there is going to be a substantial change of use in public land. And, clearly, a high-impact transmission line would be a major change of use.
The Maine Superior Court this summer vacated that lease, creating a hole in the CMP corridor’s path. And it’s not clear that CMP has a viable alternative route that wouldn’t violate existing conservation easements on other land. We have never seen a company treat Maine’s public lands, and our North Woods, with such disdain – diminishing the value of Maine’s North Woods and disregarding legal protections for public lands. The land where CMP wants to cut a 53-mile corridor is globally significant and one of the last places like it in the U.S.
#6: Launching a cynical campaign of lies about “retroactivity”
CMP created a new Political Action Committee, called Mainers for Fair Laws, that has spent an astounding $13 million just to spread totally false scare tactics about “retroactivity.” The Portland Press Herald debunked the issue of retroactivity, reporting that this as “deceptive” and “a scare tactic” that’s entirely designed “to confuse voters.” They also editorialized strongly against CMP’s dirty tricks around retroactivity. Bill Nemitz called it “political hokum of the highest order.”
The fact is Maine lawmakers have long had the authority to enact laws with retroactive provisions. More than 160 such laws have passed since 2001. Ben Dudley, who is one of the CMP campaign spokespeople warning us about “retroactivity,” voted for at least 11 laws that had retroactive provisions when he was a lawmaker 20 years ago. And Portland wouldn’t have its working waterfront if it wasn’t for retroactivity.
It really tells us something that CMP feels like the only way the company can win on Question 1 is by spending $13 million in a cynical campaign to scare and confuse voters, rather than talking about the project’s merits.
#7: Claiming that Question 1 would affect gun rights
In a mailer sent recently to voters across the state, CMP claims that Question 1 would allow lawmakers to take away people’s guns. To be honest, we don’t even know where to start with this one because it’s so distasteful.
The mailing tries to scare Maine sportsmen and women by telling them that if Question 1 passes, they will no longer be able to “defend their homes or put meat in their freezers.” Of course, this is a blatant lie.
#8: Claiming that Question 1 threatens people’s health care
In another one of their mailers that has landed in recent days using an image of Donald Trump, CMP says that Question 1 “puts important laws in danger, like the Affordable Care Act.” Again, this is tied to the lie about retroactivity.
#9: Claiming that Question 1 eliminates funding for electric cars
A third Political Action Committee created by CMP to fight Question 1 (Vote No to Protect Maine) is distributing social media ads presumably targeted to progressive, environmental-leaning voters telling them funding for electric cars will be eliminated. The company is clearly trying to play off people’s concerns about climate change and scare anyone who might be interested in buying an electric vehicle.
Yes, CMP and Hydro-Quebec have agreed to provide some funding for electric vehicle rebates and charging stations, but it is an inconsequential amount compared with other federal funding and the investments being made by car manufacturers that will make EVs broadly available within a few years. At the federal level, for example, the bipartisan infrastructure bill provides $7.5 billion for a national network of EV charging stations. The same CMP PAC pushing this EV scare tactic also has a website claiming that “Question 1 will take away clean air to breathe.”
#10: CMP raises big worries about Big Oil, without admitting its own ties to Big Oil
CMP LOVES to demonize “Big Oil” as the ones who oppose the CMP corridor, ignoring the 80,000 Maine citizens who signed a petition to bring this measure to the ballot, the 25 Maine towns that voted to rescind their support or oppose the project, as well as all the environmental groups and tribal groups and First Nations that are opposed to the project.
The most egregious part of this assertion by CMP is that it is not admitting to Maine voters that its parent company, Avangrid, owns 6 natural gas distribution companies in the Northeast that operate 25,000 miles of natural gas distribution lines that service 1 million natural gas customers. Avangrid makes huge profits from fossil fuels and has spent millions of dollars of those profits here in Maine to defeat Question 1. Talk about greenwashing!
What we find particularly galling about this assertion is everything CMP has done over the past decade to delay and obstruct the development of clean energy sources, especially solar, here in Maine. CMP has actively slowed our transition to clean energy while pretending it cares about climate change.
This top 10 list proves CMP can’t be trusted, with the corridor or in the company’s claims about the project. Vote Yes on Question 1 to send CMP a message about its scare tactics and dirty tricks. Question 1 is a referendum about the bad deal represented by the CMP corridor and about the bad behavior by CMP in trying to force Maine people to support a project that they don’t want.
—by Pete Didisheim, NRCM Senior Director of Advocacy
This blog originally recorded as a Frontline Voices podcast. Listen to full podcast.