The California-based outdoor apparel retailer founded by a Maine native backs the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s petition to stop the 145-mile project.
by Tux Turkel, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
Activist outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia is encouraging followers on Facebook to sign a petition opposing a proposed transmission line that would carry Canadian hydroelectricity through Maine to Massachusetts.
The company’s June 1 post draws attention to a petition drive by a statewide environmental organization that it helps support with grants, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, in its fight against the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line. The project is being proposed by utility company Avangrid and its subsidiary, Central Maine Power Co.
The project is controversial, in part because transmission line would cross a remote, scenic gorge on Maine’s Kennebec River.
On Wednesday, CMP and a nonprofit economic and recreational development group, Western Mountains & Rivers Corp., announced that they had come to an agreement in which the company would invest $22 million to transfer land, help build a visitor center and take other measures to mitigate the impact of the project in Somerset County. They also said the parties identified a “suitable design” for the transmission line to cross the river with limited scenic impacts.
The NRCM’s online petition is aimed at state agencies in Maine and Massachusetts that must issue permits for the project to proceed. By providing a digital platform for the Maine group to gather signatures, Patagonia is raising the profile of an environmental battle that otherwise might have little public awareness outside the region.
The post reads: “Patagonia grantee Natural Resources Council of Maine is working to oppose Central Maine Power’s proposal for a 145-mile transmission line from the Quebec-Maine border to Lewiston. If constructed, this could threaten Maine’s and Massachusetts’ forests, wildlife and strides toward renewable energy standards. Take action and add your voice.”
CMP would invest $22 million in conservation projects to mitigate impact of transmission line
Patagonia also is linking the petition through its 5-month-old initiative called Patagonia Action Works, which it calls a “new digital platform connecting customers with local grassroots organizations working to save the planet.” Through the Action Works partnership, NRCM was able to get Patagonia to make the Facebook post. Dylan Voorhees, the group’s clean-energy director and point person on the power line, said it’s too soon to assess the impact.
“We’re appreciative and thank Patagonia for amplifying our message to oppose this project,” he said.
CMP: PLAN ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND
Asked to respond to the post, CMP countered by listing some of the ways it said the project would be beneficial, from fighting climate change to limiting impacts to the land.
“Anyone who cares about the environment understands the importance of removing 3 million metric tons of carbon annually from the atmosphere,” CMP’s statement said. “They also know that siting a transmission line entirely on CMP-owned land, two-thirds of which is in existing right of way, with the balance through the commercial working forest, minimizes impacts.”
Patagonia’s post had been shared 86 times as of Wednesday evening. The discussion was diverse. A sampling of the comments:
“We are not here to act as a power cord for Mass. WE do not need to sacrifice anything to power New England. Let Mass generate their own energy.” – Chris Scerbo
“Most of the power lines are in place already! Wind power causes way more destruction by blowing holes on tops of our beautiful mountains! Hydro power is steady, reliable and affordable!” – Jack Wadworth
“It’s a power line, it doesn’t ruin the forest or wildlife. On the other hand, the house where you live does!” – David Barker
“I live on Cape Cod, drive a Prius and have solar panels. They are so efficient that they supply my house with almost all the power needed for the year. The technology is already here. It is not necessary for Massachusetts to import power from Canada.” – Wendy Williams
PATAGONIA HAS ACTIVIST
Patagonia’s activism is rooted in its billionaire founder, Yvon Chouinard, a native of Maine.
Patagonia is a 45-year-old outdoor apparel company based in Ventura, California, that’s widely known for environmental activism. It has an outlet store in Freeport.
A company spokeswoman said many of its customers tend to be engaged in environmental issues, and they’re not put off by activism. Because Patagonia is privately owned, she said, it can take stands when other retailers might shy away.
“We believe that when we do what is the right thing, that sales often follow,” said Rebecca Goodstein, the company’s East Coast District Environmental Coordinator. “We are in the business of selling clothes, but we also want to implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Patagonia donates 1 percent of its sales to nonprofit organizations and takes on issues such as fighting logging in the Takayna rainforest in Tasmania. The company says it has donated $175 million to these groups since 2002. Last year it gave NRCM roughly $4,800.
Through Patagonia Action Works, it’s also now providing a gateway for customers to connect with local organizations to which it gives money. In the Portland area, for instance, that includes the Conservation Law Foundation, the Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Rivers and 350 Maine.
Patagonia’s activism is rooted in its billionaire founder, Maine native Yvon Chouinard. He is an outspoken critic of President Trump and has been tussling with the administration over its plans for national parks and monuments.
Last December, Patagonia replaced its online home page with this message: “The President Stole Your Land.” It was a response to plans by Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to shrink Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
Zinke called the statement a lie. He said the land targeted by Trump remains protected because it is still under federal control. Patagonia later joined a lawsuit, which is ongoing, aimed at blocking the government’s actions.
LEPAGE AMONG OWNER’S TARGETS
Earlier in 2017, Chouinard wrote a Los Angeles Times editorial that called out Maine Gov. Paul LePage and other Republican governors who opposed additional public lands. At the time, Trump was reviewing the status of the Katahdin Wood and Waters National Monument, which was created under President Obama. LePage fought that designation.
NRCM’s online petition will be sent to the Public Utilities Commission, Department of Environmental Protection and the Land Use Planning Commission in Maine, as well as the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. It says permits should be denied because the project will create a new, 53-mile transmission corridor across Maine’s western mountains and suppress local wind and solar projects, among other things.
The petition had attracted nearly 1,600 signatures by Wednesday, with a goal of 2,500.