Making Progress in Maine from Dams to Disclosure

Sean Mahoney | @SeanCLF

The Fourth Estate has been much maligned in these days of electronic and instant communication. But, in Maine, some old-fashioned, gum shoe reporting is still alive and well.

CLF advocates regularly work with reporters to magnify the impacts of our advocacy, which has recently yielded positive results including a piece of legislation that will be considered in the upcoming legislative session and forcing a proposal to develop off-shore wind that was engineered by back-room political wheeling and dealing to come clean about its details .

Legislation introduced this month by Representative Jeff McCabe is a direct result of our work to shine a light on the failure of the Maine DEP to fulfill its statutory duty under section 401 of the Clean Water Act.

Section 401 has been a critical lever in forcing dam owners to make provision for anadramous fish passage, enhanced recreational opportunities and adequate water flow regimes. However, not just once, but twice, in the last year the Maine DEP has waived its rights under section 401 to condition the relicensing of dams.

Driven in large part by our advocacy, investigative reporter Colin Woodard detailed these failures in one story and another. Representative McCabe’s bill, An Act To Ensure the State’s Authority in Issues Concerning Federal Relicensing of Dams Located in the State, was developed to ensure that Maine does not waive this right again without public scrutiny and legislative oversight and is one that we will be strongly supporting as it makes its way through the upcoming legislative session.

Similarly, as a result of the very worst kind of politics at the very end of the last legislative session, Governor LePage forced through a provision that undercut the previously awarded contract for an offshore wind project – as detailed in this report – by allowing a competing bid to be considered long  after the original deadline.

In providing for the acceptance of the late bid, Governor LePage completely eviscerated any confidence in a dependable and transparent regulatory and legislative structure, ultimately leading to  the initial offshore wind proponent, Statoil Energy, to withdraw its proposal.

But even more than driving one of the largest energy companies in the world out of the market, the new proposal was also cloaked in secrecy. Despite prior public claims that it would be able to deliver cheaper energy and more direct benefits to Maine, none of the details of the bid were made available to the public.

Yet again, CLF sought to shed some light on the matter, as set forth in this letter to the PUC. As a result of this advocacy, information was recently released and more is on the way, as noted by this report.

Both results exemplify the importance that the press can play with respect to amplifying our advocacy and the degree to which policy makers and regulators will respond to such amplification. Harnessing not just the traditional Fourth Estate but the newest sources of information will be a challenge that CLF must, and will, increasingly meet.

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