The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Richard Anderson served as commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation and as executive director of Maine Audubon. Richard Barringer served as commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation and director of the State Planning Office, and as founding director of the Muskie School of Public Service.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court recently rejected a request to break into separate parts the November referendum on the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor. Meanwhile — locally, nationally and globally — the earth moves under our feet as we hasten to address the dire effects of climate change on our weather, our economy, and our society.
In the last two years, we’ve seen strong planning efforts, major policy initiatives and many renewable energy projects established in Maine. This is a lot of needed change, creating clean energy infrastructure and jobs.
Not surprisingly, polluting energy producers are not in such a hurry for this change. This is why they are helping to fund a November ballot initiative for Maine voters to stop the Clean Energy Corridor, a major renewable energy project that will substantially reduce regional climate emissions.
This project was carefully reviewed by state and federal regulators, and received all the necessary approvals to begin construction. If passed, the referendum to stop this one project could also create permanent barriers to other clean energy projects. This raises important questions.
The permitting of clean energy projects requires strict environmental and economic review by layers of state and federal agencies. These reviews encourage participation by all interested parties, gathering information from them and from the public at-large.
The results of this evidentiary process are meticulous findings of fact. Regulators apply these facts to objective legal criteria to protect the environment, the economy and the public interest. This same process plays out daily in all manner of federal, state, and local government permitting applications.
What is unusual here is the attempt to write new laws, after the fact, to retroactively block projects that have already undergone exhaustive review, and even to block them long after construction has commenced.
The ballot initiative we’ll vote on in November is just this kind of retroactive proposal. But it’s worse than that: It proposes no change to the existing criteria that our regulators use to evaluate projects in the first place. In other words, this bill provides no new guidance on how to protect wildlife, ecosystems, or our economy. It creates no new standards for measuring impacts on Mainers. It offers no new insight on how to assess carbon pollution. Not one word of the bill helps guide our regulators in determining which projects will serve the public interest in the future, and which will not.
Worse still, the bill removes permitting decisions from the filter of an impartial process, placing them squarely in the partisan political arena of the state Legislature. Worst of all, at a time when thoughtful process and expeditious action are needed to move us to a clean energy future, this referendum will take us backward.
People of good will can disagree about whether to build this project or that one; but it would be reckless to dismantle the very process we have long — and successfully — used to learn the truth about all these project proposals.
This is no way to make good law in Maine! Vote no on the ballot initiative in November.