News release from Natural Resources Council of Maine, Appalachian Mountain Club, and Sierra Club Maine
- Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), and Sierra Club Maine are challenging the Army Corps for failure to rigorously assess impacts of the controversial transmission corridor on Western Maine.
- The Corps’ inadequate assessment was completed on July 7 but not released to the public. The groups received the document only after filing a federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
- Documents received by FOIA request show the Corps and CMP closely coordinated on the analysis behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny
October 28, 2020 (Augusta, ME) — A trio of Maine’s leading environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Maine challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for its failure to rigorously assess the significant environmental impacts of Central Maine Power Company’s (CMP) controversial transmission corridor, as was done for similar projects in Vermont and New Hampshire.
The lawsuit challenges the Corps’ Environmental Assessment (EA) and “Finding of No Significant Impact,” which was completed on July 7, 2020, but not released to the public. The groups were only able to obtain a copy after they submitted a FOIA request seeking documents related to the Corps’ review. A formal permit has not yet been issued for the project.
In their legal filing, AMC, NRCM, and Sierra Club Maine said that by choosing not to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Corps had abdicated its responsibility to assess the full impacts of the proposed transmission line, including a new 53-mile corridor that would cut through Maine’s Western Mountains region.
The groups are asking the Court to dismiss the less rigorous EA and require the Corps to conduct an EIS that would fully assess the transmission line’s impact on the environment and communities of Western Maine, and objectively evaluate CMP’s unsubstantiated claims of climate benefits from the power corridor.
Alarmingly, the documents contained in the EA for the CMP corridor detail how the Corps communicated and coordinated directly with CMP on its findings behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny. This lack of transparency has carried over to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) review of the project, prompting Sierra Club Maine to file a separate lawsuit on October 16, 2020, seeking to force the DOE to disclose records the group requested nine months ago under FOIA.
Earlier this year, Maine Congressman Jared Golden and the Penobscot Indian Nation separately called on the Corps to conduct an EIS for the CMP corridor. Hundreds of Mainers attended a December 2019 hearing in Lewiston where the vast majority testified in opposition to the CMP corridor and called for an EIS, citing the significant harm the transmission line would have on Maine’s forests, wildlife, and economy.
Statement from AMC’s Vice President for Conservation Susan Arnold:
“As we develop our 21st century energy infrastructure, we should be using 21st century technology, not carving a huge swath through the heart of the largest undeveloped natural forest in the eastern United States. The CMP corridor would permanently fragment valuable wildlife habitat and remove riparian forest cover from hundreds of streams in the last stronghold for native brook trout in the country. CMP never considered less-damaging alternatives, but merely took the lowest-cost approach, to the detriment of Maine’s environment and its people.
The Army Corps’ decision not to conduct an EIS is legally unsupportable. This level of review was provided to competing projects in Vermont and New Hampshire, even though those projects would have had less severe environmental impacts. The failure to conduct an EIS for a project of this magnitude sets a terrible precedent. Maine deserves better.”
Statement from NRCM Staff Scientist Nick Bennett:
“The Army Corps of Engineers has abdicated its responsibility to assess the significant, harmful, and long-lasting impact that CMP’s massive transmission line would have on Maine’s North Woods.
The Army Corps’ decision is a slap in the face to all Mainers. The evidence and testimony presented to the Army Corps made it clear that the CMP corridor is not in the public interest and is opposed by an overwhelming majority of Maine people.
The sole purpose for this incredibly destructive project is to deliver billions in profits to CMP and Hydro-Quebec at the expense of Maine people and our environment. Mainers know a bad deal when they see it.”
Statement from Sierra Club Maine’s Executive Committee Volunteer Representative Becky Bartovics:
“The criteria for requiring an Environmental Impact Statement have absolutely been met and the Army Corps of Engineers is derelict in its duty not to have done so. The unique and ecologically critical nature of the region, particularly the new 53-mile corridor, and scientific controversy over greenhouse gas emissions outcomes, along with direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts to the environment and local communities, more than qualify for requiring an EIS.
Indigenous communities are disproportionately and significantly harmed by the hydrodams where this power is coming from. Most of Hydro-Quebec’s dams used for export to the U.S. are built on indigenous, ancestral land, often built without their knowledge or consent. Disturbingly, a 2016 Harvard University study of 22 dams proposed or under construction in Canada projected alarming levels of exposure of nearby indigenous communities to methylmercury, a neurotoxin that harms the development of children. These are unacceptable impacts to human communities at the source. Communities along the proposed route in Maine, whose environment substantially is their economy, stand to lose significantly in health, environmental, and financial sustainability.
There is clearly robust opposition to the CMP corridor. More than 80,000 Maine people from 240 communities throughout the state stood up to sign the petition against the corridor. Refusing to allow their voices to be heard undermines our democracy.
We continue to stand in solidarity with the impacted First Nations and the thousands of Mainers against the CMP corridor in order to preserve climate and economic justice, our woods, waters, and our state.”
EIS is Necessary Given Significant Impacts of CMP Corridor
A central issue in the Corps’ analysis was whether the proposed CMP corridor would “significantly affect the quality of the human environment.” If the project does not have significant effects, then the Corps is only required to conduct an EA, but if the project would “significantly affect the quality of the human environment” then an EIS is required. The requirements for an EIS are more rigorous than the requirements for an EA and include more public engagement and a deeper analysis of whether alternative routes should have been pursued, along with the direct and indirect environmental impacts of the project.
The federal government completed an EIS for similar transmission line proposals in New Hampshire (the Northern Pass) and Vermont (Clean Power Link). Maine is being treated differently, even though the environmental damage and impact on the local recreational economy from the above-ground transmission corridor is expected to be even greater than from the projects in New Hampshire and Vermont, where large sections of the transmission lines would have been buried. In Vermont, the fully permitted project would be buried under Lake Champlain or along existing roads and railways, and the Northern Pass, which was rejected by New Hampshire regulators, would have been buried for 60 miles of its route.
State and federal agency reviews of the proposed CMP corridor have revealed significant problems with the project, including a failure to properly assess alternatives that could have reduced the impact of the project on Maine’s environment and people.
- In May 2019, the S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a strongly worded letter to the Army Corps saying it had major concerns with the review process as well as CMP’s inadequate permit application that failed to examine less-damaging alternatives.
- A document the groups obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) shows that the Corps and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have identified major problems with the CMP corridor, including the company’s claims about the proposal’s impact on the climate. The April 9, 2020, response from CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, to questions raised by the Corps also reveals that CMP is writing its own EA with coaching on how to address major areas of concern from the very federal agencies responsible for evaluating the project.
Throughout the state and federal reviews of the controversial project, CMP has failed to demonstrate how its corridor would benefit the climate by reducing global carbon pollution, a fact emphasized by the Massachusetts Attorney General in a December 2018 filing.
Mainers Overwhelmingly Oppose the CMP Corridor
Opposition to the CMP corridor remains widespread throughout Maine. To date, 25 towns have voted to oppose or rescind their support. Two of the state’s biggest unions as well as the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine and Franklin County Commissioners have come out in opposition to the project. And a March 2019 poll found that 65% of Mainers oppose the CMP corridor while 90% of Franklin County residents and 83% of Somerset County residents oppose the project.
The groups are represented in their lawsuit by Earthrise Law Center, the environmental legal clinic of Lewis & Clark Law School.