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Agency hears testimony on disputed section of $1B power line

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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Opponents of a $1 billion electric transmission project urged environmental regulators Tuesday to revoke the project’s license, while supporters warned that doing so would be a step backward in the battle against climate change.

The public hearing focused on whether the project's license should be suspended or revoked over a disputed 1-mile lease on state land.

Trees already have been cleared along 75% of the 145-mile (233-kilometer) route in western Maine, and supporters said work should continue while parties await a ruling on the lease from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Project developers, meanwhile, floated a couple of alternative routes including an option for tunneling underground to minimize the impact, as they did with the Kennebec River gorge.

Any delays could add millions to the cost of the project.

Anthony Buxton, who represents a group supporting the New England Clean Energy Connect, said that the project should not be derailed because the region is in dire need of renewable energy.

“The department has found that the project is critical to the achievement of climate mitigation,” Buxton said.

But James Kilbreth, one of the attorneys who attacked the lease, said the argument over the project's impact on climate change is “irrelevant” because of the illegal lease. “There are no climate change benefits for a project that cannot be completed,” he said.

A judge’s ruling triggered a review of the state’s lease of a small section. The rest of the corridor that runs from Lewiston, Maine, to the Canadian border is owned or controlled by project developers.

Supporters say the project will remove 3.6 million metric tons of carbon emissions from the environment each year, provide $258 million in incentives for Maine and stabilize or lower electric rates across the region.

Critics say the environmental gains are overstated and that the project would change the character of the land. They also say it primarily benefits ratepayers in Massachusetts, who’re funding the project.

Construction, which began in January, is continuing along the entire route except for the disputed portion.

The fact that work has continued despite both the lease dispute and the referendum has frustrated some critics.

“We call on DEP to suspend CMP’s activities ... until or unless CMP has a valid permit for the full length of the project,” said Lisa Pohlmann from the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

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