D. Rooks: BEP proves strength of checks, balances

Now we know why it was important that a Republican-controlled Legislature rejected Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to abolish the Board of Environmental Protection in 2011.

Killing BEP wasn’t a point that attracted the most attention in the lobbyist-written “environmental rollback” agenda. Those items included gutting the kid-safe product act and zoning 3 million acres of the North Woods for development. But preserving BEP was among the most important.

BEP is unusual among state agencies in that a citizen board reviews administrative decisions of the Department of Environmental Protection. At the time DEP was created, it was thought that its decisions could be so far-reaching, with such a dramatic effect on Maine’s quality of life, that it should be subject to independent review.

The wisdom of that decision has been confirmed many times, and it was again last week when BEP overturned a ruling against a 14-turbine wind project on Passadumkeag Mountain in southern Penobscot County. DEP’s staff and commissioner was ruling on the first major wind project in the unorganized territory since that task was removed from the former Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) last year.

Commission Patricia Aho and spokeswoman Samantha Depoy-Warren sounded pretty sure of themselves before the BEP voted 5- 1 to vacate its denial. “Anyone who looked at the picture agreed that there was an unreasonable adverse impact from this project,” said Depoy-Warren, who also pointed out that BEP had “never” reversed a staff decision on wind power – but then, it had never considered one in the unorganized territory, either.

Even after the vote, Aho strayed outside the role of an administrator legally subordinate to BEP. “Sometimes we need to say no and the board’s vote calls into question whether we can truly do that when it comes to mountaintop development,” she said. To which one must respond: Commissioner, it’s not your call.

The issue at Passadumkeag Mountain was the same as the one in which LURC, in its final vote on windpower, used to curtail the Bowers Mountain wind project nearby – visual impact.

This is a notoriously subjective area that is, however, fairly well defined in state law. Where the view is unusually significant, agencies may consider it up to 8 miles from the project site, though even then a project must create an “unreasonably adverse” impact. Simply saying that the turbines are visible from “97 percent” of nearby Saponac Pond in the town of Lincoln, as Depoy-Warren did, doesn’t answer the question.

If simple visibility of a wind turbine were the standard, then it’s safe to say that no more wind projects on this scale would be built in Maine.

Like much of our public life, wind turbines have become intensely polarized. Some Mainers who live within a few miles of them – but much too far away to hear their operation – have decided they are an affront to their peace of mind, and have become increasingly well-organized. There are actually anti-wind lobbyists at the State House, whose arguments find sympathetic ears in the LePage administration.

But the state has set a priority on responsible development of its wind resource, the largest in the Northeast, through agreement by a wide variety of stakeholders, including the state’s largest environmental groups. Not everyone is going to agree, naturally, but not wanting to see a distant wind tower isn’t a valid reason for denying construction permits.

Gov. LePage was more restrained than usual in his criticism of BEP, saying only that he was “deeply disappointed.” Perhaps that’s because he’s already appointed four members of the seven-member board. Three of them sided with the majority, while the fourth, while dissenting, conceded that DEP’s denial arguments were “vague.”

LePage, who’s reiterated his interest in importing hydropower from Quebec at every opportunity, seems curiously uninterested in this indigenous renewable energy source that’s produced $1 billion in capital investment here, and could produce $1 billion more if the regulatory environment remains consistent.

Buying hydropower from Quebec produces no more economic benefit here than buying petroleum and – something LePage never mentions – it would take hundreds of millions of dollars to build the necessary transmission line from Canada — construction people might like even fewer than wind towers.

Admittedly, DEP wasn’t one of LePage’s favorite causes. His first choice as commissioner, developer Darryl Brown, was forced to resign because of legal conflicts. His second, Aho, was best known at the State House as lobbyist for the Maine Petroleum Association.

Executive authority should be subject to reasonable review in the courts and, in this case, through a citizen board: BEP.

It’s a timely reminder on how much we rely on checks and balances to make our democratic system work.

Douglas Rooks is a former daily and weekly newspaper editor who has covered the State House for 28 years. He can be reached at drooks@tds.net.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on SunJournal.com, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your SunJournal.com profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.

Advertisement

Comments

Alice Barnett's picture

RPS mandates

Maine is the largest WIND developer in the Northeast because Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have no place to site these 500 foot bird killing behemoths (as Dr. Eastler called them). Google Fairhaven, Mass, Falmouth, Mass. see the problems Maine has to look forward to.

Maine has enough electricity generation for itself. Southern New England is at a stand still. LNG and natural gas are their suppliers.

Renewable Portfolio Standards mandate NEW renewables replace old renewables.
Lifting the 100MW limit on old reliable hydro will open up a pathway to southern NE. Massachusetts can lock themselves in a rate for 20 years. Massachusetts can make the claim as one of the "greenest' states in the world.

As far as the cost of the transmission line running along side our Maine turnpike, think of the jobs, jobs, jobs.

Maine Power Reliability Project is way over budget and is already costing the rate payer.

Oh and your Billions of dollars you claim the WIND industry invested in Maine were stimulus grants spent overseas....very little in comparison to a Maine Blasting company crew.

Alice Barnett's picture

Quality of Place

Quality of place is what makes Maine, Maine. People from New Jersey consider Maine the Alaska of New England. Five hundred foot turbines on top of a 1200 foot Passadumkeag Mountain will cause a "prominent", in-harmonious, visual impact. The towers will feel like they are "looming" over people on Saponac pond.

You tell commissioner Aho "it's not your call."
That is right, it is not her call, she, instead listened to over 300 negative comments from locals at a DEP public meeting. Maybe she listened to the Supreme court judges when they ruled that "controversy" is to be kept to a minimum in siting Industrial Wind Projects.
Passadumkeag WIND is controversial but not intensely "polarized." An Intercept survey of 29 users is a far stretch of substantial acceptance when 300 property owners testified ( whoops no, it was not a public hearing) stated they do not want 500 foot towers in their area.

Commissioner Aho is to be commended for making a site visit.

You state that some Mainers living with-in a few miles of these turbines have decided that industrial Wind is an affront to their peace of mind.
Dozens of Citizens, one and half miles away at Shagg and Concord pond of Woodstock, sent noise complaint letters to the Bethel Citizen because DEP has NO complaint protocol. As supreme court judges said,' they understand how DEP will measure noise but how will they enforce any noise infractions? The public is unprotected.

Alice Barnett's picture

BEP's expertise

In the Oakfield wind appeal to BEP, Dr. James Palmer, visual expert for DEP, asked the Board if they had experienced a real turbine in real life. Some of the board had not. How do you judge a visual impact of something you have never seen?

One BEP member stated in the Passadumkeag appeal that on his site visit to a turbine he saw grass growing back along the road. Voila, Restoration of the road, until the crane needs to come back and fix a turbine.

Dr. Tom Eastler, a recent appointee to the board, I suspect was recommended to the Governor by a Jim LaBrecque (the Governor's mechanical how to man) because LaBrecque touts Eastler as against oil consumption since the embargo in 1973. I wonder if Eastler knows that Quantum Energy (WIND company destroying Passadumkeag) is OIL.

http://www.quantumep.com/about/quantum-energy-partners/

"We invest across the energy value chain with a particular emphasis on the oil and gas upstream, midstream, oil field service and power generation sectors."

Penny Gray's picture

It's tragic that the BEP

It's tragic that the BEP apparently didn't do their homework on this subject before voting. If they'd looked at the FERC figures for the power production of the industrial turbines currently operating in Maine they would have to question the alleged benefits of this industry. Maine's wind quality is reflected in the low power production figures. There is nothing environmentally friendly about these machines. There are no studies that prove they reduce CO2. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Bentec study proved they DON'T reduce CO2. No permanent jobs are created for Maine residents by these projects. Critical wildlife habitat is fragmented. Forests are clear cut and industrial roads are blasted through bedrock and bulldozed along mountain ridgelines that were previously protected by law. "Wind sprawl" is a very real problem in a state that markets its scenic viewsheds to the tourism industry. People come here to escape industrialization. They come to enjoy Maine's natural scenic beauty. Should we sacrifice our biggest economic engine for the benefit of out of state corporations? Maine's Expedited Wind Law was based on false premises and false promises. Our legislature needs to address this before it's too late. I wonder if the BEP plans to approve that big industrial wind project planned for Portland's Back Bay?

Mike DiCenso's picture

Doug is wrong ...again

A citizen board with no time spent in the area like the DEP made an uninformed decision to override the DEP and approve a project with adverse scenic impact on Saponac Lake and the entire region. Where they just tired of listening to the fancy wind lawyers spouting the same old lines? The BEP will give the rubber stamp to any and all wind projects now. I wonder how they would vote if the next project was near them? If the BEP is not going to listen to the DEP, then they need to attend the public hearings and study the citizen complaints not just loaf around southern Maine until it is time to approve anything the wind industry wants. Do these people ever get outside?

Brad Blake's picture

Rooks is Totally Wrong

It is time that Doug Rooks gets his head out of the ass of the wind industry and come up for some fresh air known as truth. I am sure Rooks has never been to Passadumkeag Mt and NONE of the BEP members have, either. The crux of this case is that there is definitely a scenic resource of state significance that will now be surrounded by wind turbines, both the exisitng ones from the Rollins Project and the 14 on Passadumkeag. That is a violation of the law.

The DEP Commissioner and staff visited the area and they listened to area residents and property owners. THAT is the key difference. I will believe their interpretation of unreasonable adverse scenic impact because they conducted due diligence. I do not believe the BEP, as it was obvious in sitting in the hearing, with it's attributes of a kangaroo court (complete with absolutely NO citizen input), that the BEP is squarely in the pocket of an undeserving wind industry. The bias was blatant.

Advertisement

Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...