Politics & Other Mistakes: Viral power

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It’s a pandemic – of process-servers.

CMP doesn’t stand for Coronavirus Maine Power, but maybe it should. Central Maine Power Co. is spewing out every legal loogie its high-priced lawyers can cough up in what will likely prove a futile effort to stop the state’s voters from deciding whether the electric utility can build a transmission line through western Maine to deliver Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts.

CMP has already spent millions trying to flatten the negative public-opinion curve of the New England Clean Energy Connect project. According to knowledgeable sources, those TV and newspaper ads have been about as effective as a tissue-paper facemask is in preventing the spread of viruses. Internal polling shows the media blitz has had a negligible impact, with a sizable majority of voters still opposing the power line.

CMP’s political experts now realize they probably won’t win at the polls. But the courts and government regulatory bodies might be more receptive. So, why not sue everybody in sight?

To date, this plan has worked about as well as convincing Donald Trump to stop making misleading statements about COVID-19.

CMP did succeed in getting Maine’s secretary of state to invalidate several hundred petition signatures because of trivial irregularities. But the anti-corridor crowd still has enough legitimate names to force the issue to a vote. Next, CMP called on a judge to throw out even more signatures, for reasons ranging from questionable to absurd. Naturally, an appeal to the state Supreme Court is likely.

CMP hired a private detective to follow petitioners in hopes of discovering they were cavorting with bio-terrorists. The company also spotted a handful of alleged forgeries, something that happens in nearly every referendum campaign, because there’s no way to screen out smartasses who think they’re being clever. These are the same creeps who spit on produce in supermarkets.

In addition, CMP filed complaints with the state ethics commission against the grassroots organization opposing the corridor. It claims Say No to NECEC got illegal campaign support from a dark-money group called Stop the Corridor.

STC is a front for natural gas companies afraid of losing business if the power line gets built. When it comes to this sleazy outfit, Say No should have practiced social distancing. But referendum drives cost money and, like most grassroots groups, Say No doesn’t have much. It damaged its immune system by taking what looks like germ-infested cash.

The ethics commission dismissed CMP’s complaint, but the company didn’t much care. After all, it’s the distraction that counts. And the whole matter had nothing to do with whether the corridor is a good idea (spoiler alert: it isn’t).

Meanwhile, Hydro-Quebec, the Canadian company that stands to make millions off the corridor, is running ads claiming it hasn’t despoiled all that much of Canada and certainly won’t destroy Baxter State Park (that’s true, mostly because the project is nowhere near the park). It ought to be illegal for foreign companies to attempt to influence Maine referendums, but it isn’t. Somebody should file a lawsuit about that.

Let’s not be petty – even if CMP is. In Jay, the company needs a shoreland zoning permit because part of this project comes close to fragile bodies of water. The Jay Planning Board, which issues such permits, requested information on the corridor’s impact on wildlife habitats, wetlands and areas with rare plants. Rather than comply, CMP demanded two board members who’ve publicly criticized the power line recuse themselves. So far, that hasn’t happened.

In case you’re experiencing a shortage of arrogance during this isolating time, CMP ignored the threat of a referendum and awarded $300 million in construction contracts to build the project, deals that are undoubtedly intended to provoke more lawsuits if voters reject the power line.

Speaking of which, CMP is making plans to go back to court if (when) it loses at the polls to argue it’s illegal to overturn a Public Utilities Commission decision by popular vote.

What they’re saying is that when it comes to influential utilities, referendums are no cure.

You don’t need a ventilator to clear the air. Just email [email protected].

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