Lawyers clash over $1B hydropower transmission corridor

Lawyers clash over $1B hydropower transmission corridor

BOSTON – lawyers for conservation groups and an electricity company clashed in a federal appeals court on Tuesday over the adequacy of the environmental reviews of a key part of a power transmission project in West Maine.

A lawyer from three conservation groups denied the thoroughness of the US Army Corps of Engineers and suggested that its review be handled differently from other projects. But Central Maine Power said the federal agency correctly determined that there was no significant impact.

The Sierra Club, Maine Natural Resources Council, and the Appalachian Mountain Club are trying to stop the New England Clean Energy Connect while pursuing a lawsuit to seek a broader environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The $ 1 billion project would provide a line for up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to reach the New England power grid.

Three U.S. appeals court judges at times expressed indignation over the complexity of the arguments surrounding the review process and the separate environmental reviews by the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Army Corps focused on bodies of water and wetlands, while the DOE focused on the bigger picture. This week, conservation groups tried to include the DOE in their lawsuit, saying it had accelerated its approval for the cross-border connection in the final days of the Trump administration.

Kevin Cassidy, an attorney for the Earthrise Law Center, argued that both reviews were flawed. The army corps review was inadequate and the DOE based its review on its review in its assessment, he said.

The Army Corps gave its approval in November and the DOE issued a presidential permit in January. The project also has approvals from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Maine Land Use Planning Commission, and the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

Much of the 145-mile project involves expanding existing corridors, but the litigation is focused on a new strip to be cut through 53 miles of remote woodland in western Maine.

Proponents say the power lines will reduce carbon pollution and stabilize electricity prices in New England, but critics say they would forever damage a section of wilderness in western Maine.

All but one mile of land is owned by Central Maine Power, which is behind the project. A judge ordered the state to reevaluate 1-mile portions that would use leased land.

Critics have collected enough signatures to force a nationwide referendum this November if lawmakers refuse to intervene.