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Maine legislator files suit to alter clean power referendum

June 8, 2021 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Maine legislator has revived a failed effort to get Maine’s secretary of state to split an upcoming ballot question opposing Central Maine Power’s 145-mile (233-kilometer) transmission line project into three separate issues by filing a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Rep. Christopher Caiazzo, D-Scarborough, filed the suit last week arguing that the November referendum aimed at preventing construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect power line should be broken up to give voters the opportunity to vote on three separate issues, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Caiazzo, a supporter of the project, first made his argument in May in a letter to Secretary of State Shenna Bellows. It was rejected.

Aided by lawyers from the Pierce Atwood law firm, who represent Central Maine Power in various matters, Caiazzo asked the court to reverse Bellows’ decision.

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In its current form, the approved question for voters to consider reads: “Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to vote on other such projects in Maine retroactive to 2014, with a two-thirds vote required if a project uses public lands?”

Caiazzo argues that in its current form the question “raises separate and distinct issues that should be presented to the voters in separate questions …”

Caiazzo suggests three separate questions to be considered by voters:

1. “Do you want to require, retroactive to 2014, that the Legislature approve by a two-thirds vote any lease or conveyance of public reserved lands to be used for transmission lines and facilities, landing strips, pipelines, or railroad tracks?”

2. “Do you want to require, retroactive to 2020, the Legislature to approve the construction of any high-impact electric transmission lines in Maine, with a two-thirds vote required if a project crosses public lands?”

3. “Do you want to ban, retroactive to 2020, the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region?”

Construction on the $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect project to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec through Maine to Massachusetts has already begun.

A citizen group opposing the project, No CMP Corridor, said that such an effort was expected.

“There’s never been a doubt that CMP would someday challenge our petition language,” said Sandi Howard, the group’s spokesperson, “because from the start, CMP has been terrified of facing the will of Maine voters, its own customers.”