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Business and Economy

CMP Transmission Project's Environmental Permit In Danger Of Suspension After Judge Reverses Leases

Hydropower Transmission Corridor
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
In this April 26, 2021 file photo, workers for Northern Clearing pound stakes to mark land on an existing Central Maine Power power line corridor that has been recently widened to make way for new utility poles, near Bingham, Maine.

Maine’s top environmental regulator is initiating a 14-day process that could lead to the suspension of Central Maine Power Co.‘s environmental permit for its billion-dollar transmission corridor in western Maine.

In a letter to CMP, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Melanie Loyzim says a judge’s decision this week to reverse a lease for state lands that CMP needs for its preferred route puts the permit in jeopardy.

“I have determined that the Court’s decision represents a change in circumstance that may warrant a suspension of the NECEC Order,” Loyzim wrote. “This letter shall serve as the required notice that I have decided to exercise my discretionary authority to initiate proceedings to consider the suspension of the NECEC Order.”

Loyzim says a suspension could go into effect unless one of three things happens: if the judge’ decision is reversed on appeal to the state’s highest court, if CMP secures a new lease for the state lands or if a different route is proposed that avoids the state lands and CMP is able to win a new DEP permit.

Loyzim is giving CMP two weeks to respond and request a hearing.

Earlier this week, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy reversed the lease for some 33 acres of public lands in the West Forks area. She said the administration of Gov. Janet Mills failed to determine whether the lease would “reduce or substantially alter” the property.

Under the state Constitution and statute, if a lease would result in such a change it must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of each body of the Legisature.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of by partisan lawmakers, conservation groups and activists opposing the CMP project.

Opponents have also placed an item on the November ballot that aims to kill the project.

"It's pretty obvious that NECEC/CMP cannot meet the criteria laid out by the Commissioner within the next two weeks, or even before the statewide vote this fall,” said Sandi Howard of the group No CMP Corridor. “This determination is a huge win for CMP opponents.”