Gov. Janet Mills is facing her first not-so-partisan wedge issue after coming out in favor of Central Maine Power’s proposed $1 billion corridor that would deliver Quebec hydropower to Massachusetts through western Maine.
The Democrat’s young tenure has been marked by breaks with former Gov. Paul LePage, but this is the rare issue that the two agree on, although the two came out in support of the project at different times for different reasons with much more on the line for the new governor.
Mills and LePage got to the same place on the corridor for almost diametrically opposite reasons. During the 2018 campaign, Mills — and everyone else running against her for the Blaine House — were skeptical of the project, which would build a 145-mile transmission line bringing power from the Canadian public utility of Hydro-Quebec to the regional grid in Lewiston.
LePage, a Republican, was out in front of every big-name Maine politician on the project when his energy office began advocating for it in February 2018. His energy czar at the time, Steven McGrath, vowed that the LePage administration would “push this right through” permitting processes after the former governor argued for years that Maine needed more hydropower.
His support came before it was clear that Massachusetts would pursue the Maine-based project, though there were signs that New Hampshire wouldn’t permit a similar transmission line through that state. That route later fell through officially and Maine became Plan A.
Mills only jumped on board with the project this month, when CMP was using confidential negotiations with groups that support and oppose the corridor in Maine Public Utilities Commission proceedings to negotiate a benefits package aimed at shoring up support. That $250 million package was unveiled last week, including $190 million for rate relief.
However, Mills said it lined up with campaign promises to address climate change, citing a study that said it would reduce New England’s carbon output by the equivalent of removing 767,000 vehicles from roads each year.
LePage was largely philosophical in a Monday interview with WGAN, saying it would “hopefully educate the Legislature” about hydropower’s benefits, though he took issue with ratepayer subsidies while indicating that Maine should see some of the cheaper power. He railed against a separate effort from some Democratic legislators to enshrine a carbon tax.
Opposition to the corridor remains in the environmental community that helped elect Mills and runs hottest in the new governor’s home area. The differing stances that have Mills and LePage on the same side highlight the complicated politics of the corridor. While the benefits package won support from a diverse coalition, the state’s environmental community — which figured into Mills’ campaign and is important in Democratic politics — largely opposes it.
Mills is also from Farmington, where opposition to the corridor seems to be centered now. Opponents are planning to pack a selectboard meeting there during a CMP presentation on Tuesday and the neighboring town of Wilton will determine at a March 5 meeting whether or not it will support the project. Mills has more at stake than LePage ever did as the project advances.
Correction: An earlier version of this item gave the wrong figure for rate relief in the CMP package. It is $190 million, not $90 million.
Today in A-town
Lawmakers in Augusta return Monday to a full docket of legislative meetings. Find a complete schedule here. Committee members could recommend as many as 18 referred bills for passage in the House and Senate.
Here are some of those bills, either up for a vote in a work session, or scheduled for a public hearing:
— LD 209, from Rep. Scott Strom, R-Pittsfield, seeks to stop towns and cities from prohibiting the allowance of short-term rentals, like Airbnb.
— LD 42, from Rep. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, would make district attorney elections non-partisan.
— LD 494, from Sen. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, would clarify and expand language under Maine’s family planning statutes.
— LD 392, from Rep. Jim Handy, D-Lewiston, would provide $600,000 annually for Maine’s school-based health centers through 2021.
— LD 34, sponsored by Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, would exempt fraternal and veteran organizations from cribbage tournament licensing requirements.
— LD 247, from Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, would increase the amount of time school counselors and social workers can counsel students.
— LD 387, sponsored by Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, aims to mandate cursive handwriting instruction for grades 3-5.
— A leading provider of women’s health care in Maine plans to go to court to fight the president’s new abortion gag rule. Maine Family Planning intends to seek an injunction to prevent implementation of guidelines released Friday that would block doctors and nurses at health care facilities that receive Title X funds from discussing abortion as a viable option with pregnant patients, or making referrals to abortion providers. Additionally, any organization that receives Title X funding, including Planned Parenthood, would have to stop performing abortions in order to continue receiving that money. Maine Family Planning is the state’s only direct recipient of Title X funds, disbursing about $2 million per year to 18 affiliates that provide health care to women. Proposed by President Donald Trump last May, the new restrictions will “deeply impact” the ability of nurse practitioners at Title X facilities to provide comprehensive services, and “contradict medical ethics,” Julie Jenkins, a nurse practitioner at Belfast Family Planning, said. Mills and Maine’s congressional delegation oppose the new restrictions.
— After years of problems that put millions of dollars in aid in jeopardy, Maine’s biggest state-run psychiatric hospital regained federal certification. The federal government will restore approximately $20 million in annual funding to the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, which on Friday won recertification from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The 92-bed hospital that opened in 2004 was decertified by the federal government in 2013 for overcrowding, inadequate staffing levels and the use of stun guns and restraints to subdue patients. The federal government asked Maine to pay back more than $50 million in federal funding in 2017, which the LePage administration resisted as it worked to correct the problems that caused federal regulators to decertify Riverview.
— But the state’s child protective services system continues to struggle. A government watchdog agency on Friday released a report that reflected widespread dissatisfaction and untenable workloads among state workers assigned to address child welfare complaints and work with troubled households. The 46-page report released Friday morning found more than half of assessment and permanency Office of Child and Family Services caseworkers surveyed — 54 percent — reportedly felt their workload “rarely allows reasonable time to work with families and understand their needs.” Many reported they “rarely” had time to complete documentation required from each case, while others warned that “child safety is at risk and the quality of work is suffering in the current functioning of the child protective system where workers and the system are overwhelmed.”
— The president is lowering expectations as he heads to his second summit with North Korea’s leader. As he leaves today for a meeting in Vietnam with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump reframed his definition of what would be a successful outcome. “I’m not in a rush. I don’t want to rush anybody, I just don’t want testing. As long as there’s no testing, we’re happy,” Trump told a gathering of governors at the White House not long after he had tweeted “Denuclearization?” Trump focused on international affairs, announcing that he would delay tariffs on Chinese imports, as Democrats at home threatened to subpoena special investigator Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election meddling if his administration tries to keep it from the public and former national security experts panned his border wall emergency declaration.
Up off the mat
Sorry to start the week on a dour note, but another highly respected journalist died suddenly and way too young. Nick Cafardo, a baseball writer for the Boston Globe, dropped dead Thursday — reportedly of an embolism — while doing his job at the Red Sox spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida.
Our hearts go out to Cafardo’s family, his colleagues and the people he covered.
We know all too well the feelings of despair that follow the shocking death of a beloved friend and colleague. Six months after he died, we’re still struggling to cope with the death of Chris Cousins.
The sense of loss is deep and pervasive. Each day, some event that reminds us of him rips off any scab that might have formed over our grief. We seek perspective and try to offer support to the many others who inhabited his circle of love.
For people who work with words, the fact that words so often fail to capture the emotional and existential upheaval — Why did this happen? How can we carry on? — often intensifies the sadness and helplessness.
That’s why it’s such a gift to read “ Up Off the Mat,” a blog in which Chris’ sister, Jen Cousins, honestly and intimately finds those words. She gives voice to what those of us left behind are grappling with, while bestowing upon us some wonderful gifts — “Change this, passive verbs piss me off!” — from him.
I’ll stop stumbling over my words. Please read it. Thank you, Jen. Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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