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AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of the 2nd District lobbied Central Maine Power on Thursday to commit to using Maine union workers if its proposed hydropower corridor wins state and federal permits and survives a possible 2020 referendum challenge.
Golden, a Democrat, released a letter to CMP encouraging it to enter into a project labor agreement with local unions for the $1 billion project, which would take Hydro-Quebec power to the regional grid through a 145-mile transmission line through western Maine.
He told the utility such an agreement would “put Maine people first” by ensuring that any jobs generated by the project would go to in-state workers and “would generate an immense amount of goodwill,” steady labor for the company and important apprenticeship opportunities.
A CMP spokesperson said the company “agrees” with Golden and said the corridor project will “absolutely show preference” for Maine workers in the benefits package.
It’s the second time the freshman congressman has spoken up about the controversial project, although he hasn’t yet said whether he will support it or not. The letter came on the same day of a Lewiston public hearing on the project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Golden asked the corps to hold the hearing, saying the permitting process wasn’t transparent enough and that it needed to release past communications with environmental regulators about the project. The corridor has won a key permit from the Maine Public Utilities Commission, but it faces further decisions from four other state and federal agencies including the corps.
The biggest threat to the project, however, is steady public opposition. Opponents are collecting signatures in hopes of getting a question on the 2020 ballot that would kill the corridor. In a March poll paid for by a group opposed to the project, 65 percent of Mainers opposed the line.
It is backed by Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat who turned back legislative proposals to hinder the project during the 2019 session from a coalition of Democratic and Republican opponents. Her predecessor, Republican Paul LePage, also supported the project before it became the favorite to win a massive clean-power request from Massachusetts.
Golden and his opponents seem to be latching onto the corridor as a political issue. For now, three of his four Republican challengers in the 2020 election — former state Sen. Eric Brakey, former Rep. Dale Crafts and former LePage spokesperson Adrienne Bennett, have all said they signed petitions to get the anti-corridor question on the ballot.
Unions in Maine have been divided on it. The United Steelworker’s Maine Labor Council and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6 — the biggest union at Bath Iron Works —have opposed it, saying the project would take away future jobs. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents CMP workers and who CMP said has a labor wage preference framework agreement with the utility, backs it.