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CMP parent company files lawsuit against NECEC opponents’ referendum

The lawsuit questions the constitutionality of the referendum, which was approved by Secretary of State to be on the November ballot.

Avangrid, the parent company of Central Maine Power (CMP) filed a lawsuit Tuesday in an effort to stop the referendum proposed by corridor project opponents from being on the state’s general election ballot in November.

The lawsuit, filed against the Secretary of State, questions the constitutionality of the referendum proposed by opponents of the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC). In March, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap found that the people’s initiative effort “To Reject the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) Transmission Project” had enough valid signatures to get on the state’s general election ballot this November.

In April, a Maine judge rejected a lawsuit that attempted to stop the statewide vote.

RELATED: Judge OKs referendum on utility corridor; appeal is expected

The lawsuit, which was filed in Cumberland County, argues that the proposed referendum suffers from two fatal constitutional flaws:

  • First, this referendum exceeds the legislative power provided to the people under the Constitution. Maine’s highest court, the Law Court, has consistently recognized that referendum power is limited to legislative acts, which are by nature “general and prospective” and “a rule for all, and binding on all.” This initiative against the NECEC does not meet these simple and straightforward criteria. Rather, the Initiative is directly targeted at reversing one particular Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity granted to a specific single entity after months of hearings and public testimony.
  • Second, this referendum violates the separation of powers provision of the Maine Constitution. The Constitution mandates that power granted to one branch of government cannot be usurped by any other branch. Here, the referendum doubly offends: it usurps executive power by seeking to reverse a lengthy Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) process and resulting certificate, and it usurps the judicial power by seeking to reverse the Law Court’s final judgment affirming the MPUC’s order. By infringing on both executive and judicial power, the Initiative violates separation of powers doctrine and is constitutionally indefensible.

The group 'No CMP Corridor' released a statement in response to the lawsuit:

"This is just CMP's latest stunt to try and keep the people of Maine from having a say over their for-profit corridor project. It's ludicrous for a foreign company to go to such lengths and expense to silence 66,000 Mainers who signed petitions to make this referendum a reality. The bottom line is that the people of Maine deserve the right to decide what goes through their back yards, and this November, they will have that opportunity."

Avangrid says the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Energy Consumer’s Group (IECG) support the new filing.

“If this referendum is put on the ballot, any decision by a court or agency could be arbitrarily overturned after the fact,” Thorn Dickinson, CEO and President of the NECEC Transmission, LLC., said in a statement. “It will create a dangerous precedent that allows special interests to manipulate voters in overturning decisions made by local and state regulators and Maine courts.  This creates uncertainty and threatens individual rights of fairness under the law.”

The NECEC project is a $950 million project that calls for the construction of a 145-mile transmission line to bring 1,200 megawatts of electricity from Hydro-Quebec to the New England power grid. Most of the transmission line would follow established utility corridors, but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles of wilderness owned by CMP in western Maine.

Opponents to the project have been accused of ‘illegally’ and ‘unethically’ gathering signatures for their petition. Secretary Dunlap threw out thousands of invalid signatures but still met the threshold to be approved.

RELATED: Proponents of controversial CMP project allege opposition groups 'illegally' gathered signatures

RELATED: Referendum to block CMP transmission line will go forward

“Maine people have the constitutional right to vote on a project this consequential and potentially damaging to our state’s future," NRCM’s Clean Energy Attorney Sue Ely said in a statement in response to the Secretary of State’s announcement in March. "Instead of spending millions to try and extract the profits they’d make for their shareholders, Central Maine Power and Hydro-Quebec should respect the fundamental right of voters to decide this issue at the ballot box.”

Dana Connors, President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said, “Regulatory consistency is the hallmark for economic development and investment in our state or any state. When the referendum process is used to overturn a permitting decision and moves the goalposts at the end of that process, we risk critical investments in Maine. This is not only an improper use of the referendum process, it is one that we cannot sit on the sidelines and let stand.”

“This referendum sets a precedent for which any Maine business, properly established and operated could be shut down not based on facts or due process, but by a never-ending appeal-by-referendum concocted by special interests,” Dickinson said.  “Imagine if a referendum singled out an individual lobsterman’s right to fish and revoked only his permit, leaving the rest of the industry alone?”

RELATED: Maine DEP issues permit for CMP corridor project

RELATED: More than $300 million in new contracts awarded for controversial transmission line project

RELATED: 2,052 CMP transmission line petition signatures previously counted now found invalid by Sec. of State

RELATED: Maine Supreme Court upholds PUC approval of energy corridor