In this April 26, 2021, file photo, new metal towers stand on land recently cleared on an existing Central Maine Power power line corridor near Bingham. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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Benjamin Dudley is the director of Mainers for Clean Energy Jobs. He served in the Maine Legislature from 1998 to 2006.

Tucked in Question 1 on the November ballot is a seemingly innocuous but toxic provision that would shift approvals for important public utility projects away from impartial proceedings and into the political arena. Here’s why that’s a bad idea.

A century ago, the Maine Legislature established the independent Public Utilities Commission for the express purpose of insulating utility decisions from outside political pressure. The thinking, in a nutshell, was that energy and communications infrastructure were too important to the state’s growth and its people’s prosperity for decisions to be made by inexpert and self-interested politicians.

Legislators established the commission expressly to act like a court of law, where neutral and expert evaluators would apply objective standards to determine whether private development projects served the public interest. The model was so successful that, about 50 years later, it was adapted for use in the Department of Environmental Protection’s permitting.

The utilities commission and environmental department are at the center of balancing the public interest in economic development, fair competition and environmental protection. But Question 1 forces the Legislature to put its political thumb on the scale. Question 1 seeks to give back to the Legislature final say over the thoughtful, thorough and apolitical permitting processes at the utilities commission and environmental department — power that the Legislature itself has long said it shouldn’t have and for which it is uniquely ill-suited.

Question 1 is designed to upend a reliable system that we need more than ever as we revitalize and grow (by two or three times!) our grid infrastructure over the three next decades, in order to meet demand for clean energy.

Under Question 1, approving certain vital transmission projects anywhere in the state would necessitate legislative approval. However, Question 1 would be powerless to direct legislators to apply objective evaluation criteria when they vote, powerless to prevent legislators from trading votes on totally unrelated matters (i.e., I’ll vote for your transmission line if you vote for my tax cut), even powerless to require that legislators be informed before voting.

Question 1 imposes no prohibition on legislators holding private meetings with interested parties and no prohibition on legislators taking campaign contributions from them. Worst of all, perhaps, under Question 1 there wouldn’t even necessarily be a right of appeal to the courts if a permit were unjustly denied. Objectivity, expertise and accountability are simply tossed aside and replaced with politics.

This is precisely why past Maine legislatures tasked the utilities commission and environmental department with these decisions in the first place, because they knew the decisions were too important to be allowed to fall victim to politics as usual.

The New England Clean Energy Corridor has been exhaustively studied for years by the utilities commission and environmental department (among still other state and federal agencies) in processes where all interested parties and the public actively participated and whose input was given consideration, in the full light of day.

The gas and oil-burning energy companies that have funded 99 percent of the “yes” on Question 1 campaign are among the nation’s top 12 greenhouse gas emission polluters. They are asking us to ignore all the fact finding and to create political barriers for the construction of this and future clean energy projects.

So, before we vote, it’s wise to ask ourselves this central question: Who benefits from the status quo? Not Maine workers, not Maine businesses and certainly not our climate, now or into the future. Vote “no” on Question 1.