Federal judge rejects bid to block hydropower project

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Opponents of a 145-mile hydropower transmission corridor that would run through Maine’s North Woods have lost another round in their legal fight after a federal judge tossed out a bid by environmentalists to block the project.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Lance Walker rejected the lawsuit filed by Sierra Club Maine, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and other green groups seeking to delay construction of the project, which could get underway in January.

Central Maine Power’s $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect calls for providing up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England region.

The project has cleared several regulatory hurdles, including approval by Maine’s Land Use Planning Commission and state Department of Environmental Protection. In November, it was granted a permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The utility argues that the clean energy project is good for the environment and it will reduce carbon emissions that scientists say are contributing to a warming planet.

Opponents say the project would carve through scenic swathes of untouched forest in the North Maine Woods and lead to a loss of jobs and recreational tourism.

The groups who filed for the preliminary injunction seeking to block the project had asked the judge to require a more stringent environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers. They argued that federal regulators ignored the “severe environmental impact” of the green energy project in granting a permit.

“The federal review of this project has been conducted behind closed doors and has failed to properly consider the long-lasting impact the transmission line will have on the woods, waters, wildlife and recreational economy of western Maine,” the group’s wrote in court documents.

Sandi Howard, who heads the No CMP Corridor PAC, a coalition of environmental groups opposed to the project, said opponents of the project are undeterred by the court’s ruling and will continue a push to put the issue on the ballot next year.

“There are still many ways we can stop this destructive for-profit project, but the best way to protect our environment and our way of life is through a statewide referendum,” she said in a statement.

Opponents of the CMP project had gathered enough signatures to put a question on the Nov. 3 ballot asking voters to block the project, but the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled it unconstitutional after a lengthy court battle.

Backers of the project claim that opposition to the hydropower corridor is being funded mostly by the fossil fuel industry, with the intent of killing green energy projects.

The hydropower project still needs a presidential permit that would allow the transmission line to cross the Canadian border.

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