My name is Orion Schwab. I am a recent graduate of Spruce Mountain High School and a proud member of the Spruce Mountain Envirothon Team. Many of my friends and associates know me as a zealous environmentalist and as someone who believes that drastic action must be taken within the next decade to avoid the serious consequences of climate change that will affect not only my generation but the ones that follow as well. 

A couple of weeks ago, my teammates and I met with Doug Herling, the CEO of Central Maine Power, to receive an extremely generous donation of $1,500. I had hoped this meeting could have been portrayed as an opportunity for the general public to become aware of an amazing program that helps students nationwide develop their practical knowledge, critical thinking, and problem solving skills when it comes to the most pressing environmental challenges of our time, and it disappoints me to see that my team’s stance on the Clean Energy Connect detracts from this message. However, the events of the past week, and some of the comments made about my teammates and my adviser Robert Taylor, have motivated me to present an argument in favor of the Clean Energy Connect that most people in our community have not had the opportunity to hear. I am greatly concerned that the recent chorus of uninformed slogans and misleading information, pushed forward in part by an out-of-state fossil fuel lobby, has been negatively impacting our community and its ability to make the right decision in this situation. 

Many of those who know of my activist stances towards drastically reducing our carbon footprint are surprised to learn that I support the NECEC. However, I do not support the NECEC despite the fact that I am an environmentalist; I support the NECEC because I am an environmentalist. By the year 2050, Earth will be home to 9.7 Billion people, and the earth will likely have heated by an average of 3.5 degrees Celsius. London will feel like Madrid. New York will feel like Virginia Beach. Seattle will feel like San Francisco

Let me ask the citizens of Western Maine this very simple question: What will Maine Feel like in 2050? Will we still be a suitable habitat for White Pine? Brook Trout? Will our Wetlands and Forests still be in good shape in a world that is – on average – 3.5 degrees hotter? 

It is one thing to say that we support the fight against climate change – it is a very different thing indeed to make the sacrifices necessary to ensure that the next generation – my generation – can raise their children in the same world that I grew up in. For my fellow envirothoners (who mostly support the NECEC) and I, losing a narrow strip of land alongside an existing power corridor seems like a small price to pay for a contribution to the fight against global warming. (Indeed, the corridor passes within a mile of where I live in East Livermore). 

There are those who seem to believe that the CMP corridor will not contribute significantly to net carbon savings on a global scale. After all, Hydro Quebec doesn’t have any interest in expanding the capacity of their hydroelectric dams. Surely, if they lose their supply of clean energy, they will abandon the fight for a cleaner planet and turn to the allure of fossil fuels. This analysis is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons. 

First, it is important to realize that Canada is fundamentally more committed to fighting climate change than the United States is. While leaders here in this country have been betraying future generations to the interests of the fossil fuel industry for decades, our neighbors in the north have ratified both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Climate accords. Whether we like it or not, in the coming decades, we will be the ones depending on Canada for clean energy, not the other way around. It is impossible to know exactly what will happen if this corridor is built; the electric grid is an extremely complex system, and indeed, as of today, there has not been an independent report analyzing the change in net carbon emissions as a result of the NECEC project. However, I find the notion that Canada will simply abandon its renewable energy efforts as a result of this project to be an extremely contrived line of reasoning. 

Second, the notion that there is no new generation as a result of this project is simply false. In 2018, the Province of Quebec exported a record 36.1 terawatt hours of hydro electric power, and this figure is expected to increase once data is finalized for this year. Canada continues to invest heavily in it’s hydro electric resources, and whenever there is a new source of generation, there is a net savings in our civilization’s carbon footprint. 

Lastly, we must recognize that the Massachusetts Clean Energy Portfolio sets standards for the percentage of energy within that state that must come from renewable sources, which facilitates the gradual phase-out of fossil fuels such as natural gas and petroleum. In other words, carbon savings will not only occur on the Canadian side of the border, but on the American side as well. Killing this corridor would play directly into the hands of the interests of New England Natural Gas generators, who, through the Boston-Based New England Power Generators Association, have bankrolled the campaign against the corridor. 

Now, one of the most frustrating aspects of the debate over this corridor so far has been the lack of reliable information about the project from independent sources. A quick search online will result in a whirlwind of talking points spun 180 degrees by either side of the issue in order to shed their cause in a positive light. Also, Maine consumers are right to be wary of the interests of Hydro Quebec, CMP, or any corporation with an inherent interest in making money. However, opposition to a project with such clear benefits for the economy and (more importantly) the environment is akin to cutting off the nose to spite the face. 

My generation will be the first to bear the full consequences of a changing climate, and I sincerely believe that we have an obligation to speak up and try to change course before it is too late. I am frustrated by the tactics employed by some of those who are opposed to the corridor, who prefer to stop conversation through personal attacks on those who disagree with them. I am particularly offended by the notion that Robert Taylor or CMP are somehow telling me or my teammates what to think.

My envirothon team is comprised of independent thinkers who are committed to understanding the serious issues before us, and there is not a group of people in this world that I would rather work with. I respect that most opponents of the corridor have respectfully avoided irresponsible personal attacks, and I will continue to respect the differences that I may have with anyone who is willing to express those differences in a civil and constructive manner.

I just feel that it is my responsibility to make clear that attacks on our mentor, our ethics, or our commitment to the issues are entirely out of place in this important conversation. Most importantly, the members of the Envirothon team that have chosen not to speak out on this particular issue have a solemn right to be left alone, and I will personally take issue with any attacks against them as a result of things that I say.

Orion Schwab has referenced several sources in this column. Live links are available in the online version, which can be found on the Livermore Falls Advertiser website, https://www.sunjournal.com/weeklies/livermore-falls-advertiser/.


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