Politics & Other Mistakes: Firing the retro rockets

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I wasn’t listening too closely, but I was pretty sure I heard that the latest TV spot from Central Maine Power Co.’s cronies supporting the transmission line through western Maine to deliver Canadian electricity to Massachusetts said the referendum to stop the project is “radioactive.”

If that was true, it was serious, because we all know radioactivity causes cancer, the Incredible Hulk, and Ted Cruz.

Al DiamonOn the other hand, lots of stuff is mildly radioactive, so it might not be a big deal. It’s not as if the Pentagon planned to nuke Wytopitlock or something.

Oh wait, I just heard the ad again (it runs about every six minutes because CMP is spending a zillion bucks on it). It’s not “radioactivity,” after all. It’s “retroactivity,” which has less to do with H-bombs and more to inspire F-bombs.

That’s because, unlike a little fallout, retroactivity isn’t a serious problem. No tumors, no X-Men, no Jolly Green Giant. We live with retroactivity all the time, and it doesn’t seem to do much harm. Unless you count revivals of ’80s music.

It’s true the anti-corridor referendum contains retroactivity clauses. Contrary to what the TV spot says, that information isn’t hidden in the fine print. It’s right there in the ballot question, which states it would stop the CMP project and “require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine, both retroactively to 2020, and to require the Legislature, retroactively to 2014, to approve by a two-thirds vote such projects using public land.”

That’s about as retro as a VHS tape of Donald Trump explaining why the coronavirus is no big deal. And nobody’s afraid of that.

What the retroactivity clauses aren’t is any different than bills the Legislature already approves. Because our lawmakers currently possess the power to pass retroactive laws.

This is neither a good idea nor a bad one. It’s something that’s necessary occasionally to correct a problem that nobody foresaw.

Nevertheless, the political action committee Mainers for Fair Laws continues to double down on the evils of retroactivity, claiming in a mailer that, “The harm that could come to small businesses, renewable energy and manufacturing is real.” That there are no such examples of that harm doesn’t seem to be the PAC’s concern.

CMP’s much-maligned corridor is wildly unpopular with voters in much of Maine, so proponents have been desperately seeking some message that counteracts the idea that tearing up 150 miles of wilderness to earn the company a billion bucks in easy profits is of any benefit to the public.

To do that, CMP could have promised lower rates (oh wait, they did that – if the corridor goes into operation, it’ll lower the average electric bill by about 9 cents per month. Spend wildly.)

CMP already tried to position the issue as one of green power from Canadian hydro facilities versus fossil fuels, but that’s tough to buy. The power line is destroying hundreds of acres of trees. The juice it carries won’t, as promised, replace gasoline and heating oil used in Massachusetts. Instead, it’ll likely fuel additional growth in the already overcrowded eastern part of the Bay State, producing more greenhouse gases than ever before.

But focus groups did find one argument that resonated with potential voters in turning them against the referendum. It’s that word “retroactivity.” Who cares if they understand its legal meaning or the fact it’s been available to the Legislature all along, without doing anywhere near as much damage as one ill-considered power line.

CMP got this far with this project by skirting the rules (with the willing assistance of state officials in the current and previous administrations). Contrary to the scare tactics, retroactivity will go a long way toward correcting that disregard for the law.

But if that word scares people, CMP’s consultants figure that’s what they’re going with. It’s a strategy as retro as cassette tapes and Schlitz beer, and as frightening as LePage for Governor lawn signs.

I’m sure I have a snail mail address around here somewhere, but if you can’t wait for me to find it, maybe you could fax me. Or email me at [email protected].