In this Feb. 9, 2021, file photo, the first pole of the New England Clean Energy Connect project was put up in The Forks. The 100-foot pole was erected on an existing corridor near Moxie Pond that had been widened. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. It is the first weekday of spring.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “They can become active any time it’s above freezing, but once we hit 40 degrees, they can become particularly active,” said Griffin Dill, who runs the University of Maine Orono’s Tick Lab, describing the habits of deer ticks (and, if this weekend was any indication, spring-starved Mainers and others out and about) in the spring. Wear bug spray, and here’s your soundtrack.

What we are watching today

A pivotal court decision last week kick-started an ad spending spree from opponents of Central Maine Power’s controversial powerline project. The utility has been spending consistently since a second referendum was floated last fall, mostly focusing on the economic and environmental benefits of the project being run by CMP and Hydro-Quebec.

Those ads — officially run by CMP’s political action committee, Clean Energy Matters — are meant to improve public opinion of the project, and have seemed more necessary for the company as prospects of a second referendum, and legal challenges to the corridor, have grown more potent. All the while, the project marches forward, with construction continuing in certain areas and towns making decisions on local permits.

A Cumberland County judge’s ruling last Wednesday that Maine needs to decide if two parcels of state land being leased for the project requires a two-third Legislature vote under the state’s constitutional land-use provisions seems to have galvanized opponents of the project, too.

Mainers for Local Power, a PAC funded by three energy companies that was financially supporting signature efforts for a referendum likely on the ballot this November, added at least $40,000 in TV ad buys at the end of last week, according to federal filings.

Since Hydro-Quebec is a foreign government entity, it has to file information with the U.S. government on its activities here. A January poll paid for by the utility showed some of the public opinion markers the pro-corridor forces are tracking, including what Mainers have heard about the corridor, what messages influence them and which stakeholders’ opinions matter to them. 

Although a previous referendum on the corridor was ruled unconstitutional and removed from last November’s ballot, Mainers for Local Power, Clean Energy Matters and Hydro-Quebec’s political committee were the three biggest state-level political spenders in Maine in 2020, according to state data, spending more than $25 million combined.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Sen. Susan Collins sees ‘poor strategy’ in White House rebuffing GOP,” Eliza Collins and Tarini Parti, Wall Street Journal: “The shaky relationship between [U.S. Sen. Susan Collins] and the White House has emerged as a barometer of Democrats’ uncertain stance toward GOP senators in a narrowly divided Congress, as the party pursues new proposals from climate to taxes to infrastructure. [President Joe] Biden called for unity in his inauguration speech and said he values bipartisanship, but the White House didn’t hesitate to push through its relief bill and could try to take further action without GOP help.”

Is the White House looking to patch things up with Collins? The WSJ report is full of interesting details about Collins’ seemingly good relationship with Biden himself but a frosty one with Chief of Staff Ron Klain and other Democrats after they refused to entertain a Republican counteroffer to the $1.9 trillion stimulus. Collins and Klain had a “constructive conversation” on Friday, the senator’s office said, and former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Klain “regrets that the relationship with Sen. Collins has gotten off on the wrong foot.”

— “COVID-19 cases stay stubbornly high in Maine,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Health officials say it is too early to say what accounts for the rise or whether it will continue. Complacency during the vaccine rollout or the spread of more contagious variants are possibilities. Maine and other New England states also continue to maintain higher testing levels than most of the rest of the U.S., which suggests they may be detecting more cases as well.”

— “Tribes use community ties to open COVID-19 vaccines to all adults ahead of Maine,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “The efforts are now in high gear. The Micmacs have fully vaccinated 40 percent of the populations served by their health clinics, which includes tribe members and non-members alike, while the Penobscots are around 20 percent. Nearly 16 percent of Mainers were fully vaccinated as of Friday, according to the Maine CDC.”

Maine is accelerating its shift to universal eligibility. The promise of more vaccine doses was one reason for allowing all Mainers 16 and older to get vaccinated as of April 19, but public health officials cited on Friday some sites seeing appointment slots go unfilled as a big reason for the expansion. There could be a myriad of reasons for that beyond hesitancy, such as scheduling or life conflicts, that the state says it is trying to understand. Mainers in their 50s will now be eligible for vaccinations beginning Tuesday.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Michael Shepherd and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...