Maine judge deals blow to Mass. climate change plan
Rejects injunction against law blocking hydroelectricity transmission line
A MAINE JUDGE dealt a blow on Thursday to a key Massachusetts initiative to address climate change by importing hydroelectricity via a 145-mile transmission line running from Quebec down to Lewiston, Maine.
Judge Michael Duddy refused to issue a preliminary injunction barring a voter-approved law blocking the transmission line from taking effect on Sunday. The decision means construction of the $1 billion transmission line cannot resume unless Duddy’s decision is reversed or a formal trial on the constitutionality of the law is held. Duddy said some of the legal issues raised by the case were confusing and suggested an appeal of his decision may be warranted.
New England Clean Energy Connect, the company building the transmission line, had no immediate comment and Massachusetts officials issues a statement saying they were studying the ruling. If the transmission line is ultimately blocked, it would be the second time Massachusetts has failed to complete a transmission line to import hydroelectricity from Quebec; an earlier bid to build a transmission line to Quebec through New Hampshire was blocked by Granite State regulators in February 2018.
New England Clean Energy Connect argued a preliminary injunction was warranted because the initiative petition, approved by a margin of 59-41 percent on November 2, retroactively changed the rules under which the company had secured permits, begun construction, and spent $450 million. The company said a law, even one approved by voters, could not overturn the company’s “vested” rights in the project.
Duddy said the company would not be irreparably harmed by his decision not to grant the preliminary injunction. He acknowledged the company might experience a costly construction delay, but he suggested the courts would deal with the case expeditiously (he held a hearing on the matter Wednesday and issued his decision Thursday) and the firm could negotiate an extension with Massachusetts utilities to pursue the court challenge. “That land beneath the proposed corridor is not going anyplace,” he wrote.“The public interest in participatory democracy is paramount and would be adversely affected by blocking the Initiative,” Duddy wrote in his opinion. “And while the economic harm to Plaintiffs brought about by delaying construction of the corridor during the litigation will be substantial, that harm does not outweigh the harm to voter confidence and participatory democracy that would result from preventing the Initiative from becoming law while this legal challenge is pending.”
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, which lauded Duddy’s decision, issued a statement calling it “a big win,” adding “now is the time for Maine and the region to move forward, embracing well-developed clean-energy projects.”