MainePoV Column

Opinion: Retroactively stopping approved public projects is dangerous policy

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It is now less than a month before voters will go to the polls and cast their votes on ballot Question 1. The question itself is phrased in such a way that it has many Maine citizens asking for clarification.

Question 1 is an attempt to stop the major electric transmission line corridor already under construction by Central Maine Power by banning the construction of electric transmission lines on approximately 43,300 acres of land in Somerset and Franklin Counties, known as the Upper Kennebec Region, and to require legislative approval for such future projects anywhere else in Maine.

This ban would be retroactive to 2020 and any projects involving public lands would be retroactive to 2014, and would now require a two-thirds vote of approval by the members of the Legislature for projects already approved as well as going forward.

You can understand why so many have asked for clarification of what exactly they are voting on. It is a bit convoluted.

I have constituents on both sides of the project, and I respect their views. Concerned western Maine citizens have expressed opposition to a corridor on environmental grounds and concerns that hydropower will only benefit Massachusetts. Others cite climate benefits and the potential of bringing more inexpensive hydropower to our energy grid, which is operated by ISO New England. The leading fuel used for energy grid generation is natural gas, 72% at the time of this writing. Natural gas and others have a vested interest in preventing more hydroelectric power coming into to the grid.

Naturalists see the 53 mile, fifty-four-foot-wide portion of the corridor as destruction of Maine’s natural beauty and will negatively impact our wildlife. Outdoor enthusiasts see the same portion as an additional area for outdoor recreation with little impact to our wildlife.

Both sides claim out-of-state money is involved in trying to influence Maine voters. According to Ballotpedia, through early September, both sides had already spent an estimated $41.4 million to support or oppose the measure, and campaign finance reports support the claims that money is coming in from outside of Maine, as well as from competing power sources.

If this project were just now being proposed and coming before the legislature, this would be a difficult decision, but that is not the case. This project has already gone through all the required approval processes and hearings. It received all necessary permits under two successive administrations, made investments, hired individuals and is already underway.

What this question and some supporters are now asking is to allow the Legislature to step in and render those permits null and void by retroactively changing the rules. This sets a precedent for all future legislatures, a body which changes membership every two years, to do so.

To compare what is being attempted here to when the legislature approves conforming to federal tax law, or when the legislature amends current rules and regulations, is disingenuous. This will retroactively change laws without providing an exemption for those that followed the rules and regulations currently in place.

Any business wishing to invest in Maine should feel certain in their business dealings when they follow and abide by all existing laws, rules and ordinances.

In this instance, it’s easy to vilify an energy company and use that as reasoning to support this ballot question, but this doesn’t target CMP alone. It is setting future policy, and a dangerous one at that.

Imagine you wanted to start a business. You go to your town, study all existing laws, rules and ordinances required by the municipality and the state. You then hire appropriate professionals to design and construct your small business. You hire workers and contractors, and invest in the necessary equipment and materials. You are very careful to ensure that you obtained all required permits and that you have followed the rules.

You open your business with great excitement. You have achieved your dream.

Now imagine the heavy hand of government swoops in and retroactively changes existing laws, rules and ordinances to declare your business is illegal. Not only will you lose your investment in time and money, but you could possibly be fined for violating rules that didn’t exist when you started your journey.

Question 1 allows that to happen. You can’t deny the retroactive piece of this question. It is clearly printed in black and white and will, without a doubt, have future impacts on more than just CMP. Some financially backing this question have tried to divert attention away from this concern by alleging elected officials supporting this project have been bought off through campaign contributions. It is unfortunate they would attack the integrity of public officials by insinuating they could be influenced in such a way, all in attempt to support their misdirection and unwillingness to publicly debate this portion of the question.

I wholeheartedly believe people and businesses need to know that if they choose to invest in Maine, they follow the rules and do everything asked of them, that government can be trusted to keep their word and not retroactively nullify contracts and agreements.

We have all seen what can happen when government overreach goes unchecked. As a member of the 130th Maine Legislature, I do not support giving this power to lawmakers. Mainers should be skeptical of this effort.

Note: This is a Maine Point of View (PoV) column. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of The Maine Wire or Maine Policy Institute.

About Kathleen Dillingham

Rep. Kathleen Dillingham represents District 72 in the Maine House of Representatives: Oxford, Otisfield and Mechanic Falls. Prior to being chosen by her peers to lead the House Republican Caucus in 2018, she served two terms on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.

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