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.

But Duddy ruled against New England Energy Connect, rejecting all of its legal arguments. Specifically, he said the company’s rights had not vested in the project because a number of permits were still in dispute. He said the company was also well aware of the pending ballot question and “staunch opposition” to the project on January 18, when construction commenced. Duddy said New England Clean Energy Connect took a “calculated risk” on its chances of finishing the project when it began clearing trees for the transmission line before  all of its permits and approvals were finalized.

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.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“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.”