Darryl Wood and Theresa York, both residents of Farmington, demonstrate in front of the post office on Main Street on March 25, 2019, against the Central Maine Power electricity corridor that will pass through their town. Credit: Lori Valigra

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Central Maine Power’s $1 billion proposal to deliver Quebec hydropower to Massachusetts through a western Maine corridor looks to be sailing for regulatory approval, but it is deeply unpopular, according to a new poll from opponents.

The project was endorsed by the staff of the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Friday, a key step before a vote of the three-member body this month. It also began permitting hearings before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection this morning in Farmington.

Now, opponents seem to be aiming much of their fire at the legislative process and the court of public opinion. A survey released on Monday by the Natural Resources Council of Maine — the first public poll on the corridor so far — found 65 percent of Mainers oppose the project with bills aimed at stalling it finding similar levels of support.

The poll gives credence to the apparent groundswell of opposition to the corridor centered in western Maine. The poll of 850 Mainers was conducted between March 11 and March 27 for the environmental group by Critical Insights, a Portland research firm. It oversampled voters in Franklin and Somerset counties — where most of the corridor would pass through — and weighted results to match Maine’s county, age and gender populations.

What it found was striking. The project is either somewhat or strongly opposed by 65 percent of Mainers with 15 percent supporting it with another 20 percent not sure. Nearly 90 percent of Mainers have learned about the proposal and 72 percent find it to be a “bad deal” for Maine. CMP spokesman John Carroll didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

In Franklin and Somerset counties, things were starker. It’s facing 88 percent opposition in Franklin and 85 percent opposition in Somerset. It found only 5 percent and 10 percent support in those counties and 7 percent and 5 percent undecided, respectively.

Opponents of the project have long been teasing the large polling gaps in private, but it has been pretty easy to notice without survey data. Farmington and Wilton opposed the project by wide margins in March town meeting votes, joining at least seven other towns in opposition. Farmington is the hometown of Gov. Janet Mills, a high-profile backer of the corridor.

CMP spokesman John Carroll said the poll was intended to “manipulate public opinion rather than measure it.” He noted that the poll didn’t address carbon emissions, which a May 2018 study for the commission found would be reduced among New England generators by the equivalent of removing 767,000 vehicles from the road.

Proposals in the Legislature that look to have wide public support are now the biggest threats to the project. The gap in public opinion hasn’t threatened the project in regulatory proceedings so far, but the Legislature is just getting around to advancing bills that are aimed at killing or at least stalling the project.

They’re led by a proposal from Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, that would make every community that the corridor is set to pass through approve it at referendum before it is approved. Another bill from Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, would mandate an emissions study before permitting processes end. 

The Natural Resources Council of Maine poll asked about those bills, finding 62 percent support for the concept in Berry’s bill and 65 percent for the one in Carson’s bill. Past that, 47 percent said Mills should oppose the project and 43 percent said if their legislator supported the corridor, it would make the voter less likely to support them for re-election. 

Both have bipartisan groups of sponsors including Republicans from Franklin and Somerset counties and the bills could force the Legislature’s first showdown with Mills. While the permitting processes go on mostly unaffected by the tricky politics of the corridor, the legislative branch seems to be opponents’ best forum for beating back CMP.

Collins goes to bat for parts of ACA

Maine’s senior senator is arguing that the president is taking the wrong approach in his latest effort to kill his predecessor’s signature health care plan. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is urging Attorney General William Barr to reconsider the U.S. Justice Department’s move to dismantle the Affordable Care Act to fulfill a campaign promise from President Donald Trump.

“Rather than seeking to have the courts invalidate the ACA, the proper route for this administration to pursue would be to propose changes to the ACA or to once again seek its repeal,” Collins wrote in a letter to Barr on Monday. “The administration should not attempt to use the courts to bypass Congress. The Administration should reconsider its decision and defend the remainder of the ACA.”

The Justice Department filed its position a week ago in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans arguing that the entire law should be invalidated. This comes after a Texas federal judge in December found the individual mandate provision in the law to be unconstitutional.

Rather than call for its complete repeal through the courts, the Trump administration should treat the individual mandate portion of the law as “severable,” Collins said. In other words, overturn that particular provision without invalidating the remaining protections in the law, which includes Medicaid expansion, consumer provisions protecting those with pre-existing conditions and coverage for young adults to age 26.

Though the ACA does not include a severability clause, based on legal precedence, it doesn’t need one, she said, citing a decision Barr made while attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush. Barr at the time decided that president could “enforce the remainder of a statute after an unconstitutional provision had been severed. That opinion made no mention of whether the underlying statute contained a severability clause,” Collins wrote.

The ultimate decision to repeal the ACA, either comprehensively or piecemeal, should ultimately fall to Congress, and since Congress opted in 2017 not to eliminate certain consumer protections within the law, she said the judicial and executive branches should not circumvent the legislative branch.

“If Congress had intended to eliminate these consumer protections along with the individual mandate, it would have done so,” she wrote. “It chose not to do so.”

Collins voted against implementation of the ACA, but she was one of three Republican senators to break ranks with majority colleagues to vote against full repeal in 2017.

Today in A-town

Expect more bills to be recommended for passage in the Legislature today, as most legislative committees have full dockets. Public hearings are scheduled for half a dozen bills in the Committee on Labor and Housing to expand retirement benefits across professions. Four hunting regulation bills could be voted on by the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, and the Health and Human Services Committee will hear public testimony on six bills to enhance services and supports for those with opioid use disorder.

Expect a bill to ban the use of Native American mascots, names, symbols or imagery in Maine public schools to garner the most public attention. A public hearing last week drew heated testimony from dozens of people, including tribal leaders in support of the bill. The Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs will begin considering whether to recommend the bill for passage by the full Legislature around 10 a.m. Listen here and find a complete legislative schedule here.

Reading list

— Some employees at a Maine county jail kept their jobs despite credible evidence of sexual harassment. The Penobscot County Jail in Bangor found that at least five male guards either sexually harassed their female colleagues, created a hostile work environment, or otherwise failed to abide by the ethical standards required for their law enforcement positions during the past decade, but jail officials allowed the guards to keep their jobs, according to information obtained through a public records request. The guards, three of whom held leadership positions, received verbal and written reprimands, were suspended without pay for up to two weeks, or were demoted, but none were fired. All still work at the jail. One remains a supervisor.

— A Maine lawmaker who resigned for health reasons will be replaced through a special election in June. Rep. Dale Denno, D-Cumberland, who was re-elected for a second term to House District 45 in November, resigned on Wednesday because he has lung cancer. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office announced Friday that the special election to fill Denno’s seat will take place Tuesday, June 11. Political party members in the district have until April 18 to choose candidates for the special election. House District 45 covers the town of Cumberland and part of Gray. Statutory adjournment for this year’s legislative session is scheduled for June 19, so the newly elected member will do most of his or her work during the second session.

— Police in a Maine county hit hard by addiction are intensifying their focus on recovery services. Knox County’s four law enforcement agencies will partner with local health care and community organizations to form a network of addiction and recovery resources, such as treatment and counseling or more basic needs like employment and medical care.

Don’t be a fool

It’s April Fools’ Day. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. Just don’t.

As a service to our beloved readers, we offer a few examples of why it’s such a bad idea to participate in April 1 tomfoolery:

— An editor who tried to play an April Fools’ Day joke on Maine’s last Democratic governor lost his job. In 2004, the late Dave Swearingen thought it would be hilarious to include a joke story in the Coastal Journal that said westbound motorists expecting to cross the Sagadahoc Bridge would have to pay a toll of $5.75 unless they were out-of-staters, in which case they would receive a discount. Then-Gov. John Baldacci was not amused, especially after a bunch of angry Mainers called his office to complain. Within days, Swearingen was out of a job.

— In 1992, NPR broadcast an April Fools’ Day interview in which someone claiming to be former President Richard Nixon announced that he was running for president again. “I never did anything wrong, and I won’t do it again,” the Tricky Dick trickster said. People were outraged and NPR employees spent the next few days doing damage control.

— In 1980, a Boston television station broadcast a fake report that a hill in the tony suburb of Milton had begun oozing lava and shooting smoke into the air. Given agitation about what was happening on the other side of the continent, the timing could have been better. Hundreds of panicked Massholes flooded the phone lines of local law enforcement agencies, who were not amused.

While a 1957 BBC prank about the “pasta harvest” in Switzerland was pretty winsome, even that relatively harmless bit of goofiness enraged some viewers, especially when they learned that they would not be able to procure a spaghetti bush.

In life, being a fool comes naturally and organically. You don’t have to work at it. Take it from Mr. T. Only pain can come from playing the fool. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...