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High Elevation Forest Habitat A view from Caribou Mountain in Boundary Mountains Preserve. © Mark Berry/TNC

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The Nature Conservancy in Maine Finds NECEC Conservation Plan Inadequate

CMP’s plan fails to meet the intent and letter of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Permit Order

On November 17, The Nature Conservancy in Maine (TNC) submitted comments to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on the Conservation Plan submitted by Central Maine Power (CMP) affiliate NECEC Transmission LLC for the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project. The Conservation Plan was required by DEP’s final Permit Order, issued on May 11, 2020. TNC’s comments were joined by Conservation Law Foundation.

After reviewing the Conservation Plan, which was submitted to DEP on November 12, 2021, TNC finds it to be wholly inadequate, failing to meet what TNC believes is both the intent and the letter of the Department’s Order.

“It has been 18 months since DEP issued its Order, and it is genuinely disappointing that CMP was not able to identify any specific areas to be conserved in that time,” said Rob Wood, TNC Maine Director of Government Relations and Climate Policy. “CMP must conserve 40,000 acres in the vicinity of Segment 1 to meet DEP’s permitting standards, yet the company does not have a viable plan in place. We believe they are out of compliance.”

“CMP worked fast to clear the corridor,” noted Mark Berry, Forest Program Director for TNC Maine. “It would have been entirely reasonable to expect that, at the very least, CMP could have identified specific parcels and signed option agreements with landowners by now, to meet their obligation for a specific plan to conserve at least 40,000 acres.”

When issuing its permit for this project, DEP’s Permit Order required that, “Within 18 months…CMP must develop and submit to the Department for review and approval a plan (the Conservation Plan) to permanently conserve 40,000 acres in the vicinity of Segment 1.” This condition is central to the ability of the NECEC project to meet DEP’s permitting standards.

TNC advocated for this condition as a measure to compensate for the project’s habitat fragmentation impacts. When DEP granted the NECEC permit, TNC appreciated that it conditioned its approval on measures to avoid, minimize, and compensate for the project’s habitat fragmentation impacts, including the permanent conservation of 40,000 acres in the vicinity of Segment 1. Given DEP’s finding that the proposed project would have unreasonable impacts if not for these conditions, it is essential that CMP adhere strictly to the terms of the Order.

The Order requires that the Conservation Plan “identify the area(s), with a focus on large habitat blocks, to be conserved and explain the conservation value of this land” and that these specific areas to be conserved must be at least 5,000 acres in size (or smaller if adjacent to existing conserved land or otherwise appropriate).

CMP’s Conservation Plan identifies no such areas. Instead, it has identified an “Area of Interest” of nearly 7 million acres – or approximately one-third of the land area of the entire state of Maine. By any reasonable interpretation, this expansive area greatly exceeds a common understanding of “in the vicinity of Segment 1.”

The Order contains additional requirements, including that the Conservation Plan will promote habitat connectivity and conservation of mature forest areas; that it will ensure the availability of stewardship funding; and that it will ensure third party enforcement rights for DEP. Because the Conservation Plan provides almost no detail, offering only the most general terms and failing to identify any actual conservation areas, its compliance with the Order’s remaining requirements is impossible to evaluate.

This failure in the Conservation Plan is especially problematic given that, according to the latest satellite imagery, the initial clearing in Segment 1 of the corridor is nearly complete. The habitat fragmentation that DEP found unreasonable without mitigation has already occurred, but there is no meaningful plan in place to compensate for those impacts.

As expressed in TNC’s comments to DEP, TNC believes the Department should reject the Conservation Plan as drafted. Because the plan was due within 18 months of the permit issuance, TNC also believes DEP should find that CMP/NECEC LLC is out of compliance with the Order.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.