Richard Bennett’s guest column (May 24) “Avangrid versus the people of Maine” is dead wrong. Lawmakers in Maine, whether sitting as an elected state Legislature or as citizen (“electors”) initiating legislation, have no authority to act in violation of Maine’s Constitution or to exceed the parameters of initiative rights laid out in the Constitution. In short, Bennett’s “… right for self determination in a citizens’ initiative…” is not without limits.

The proposed NECEC transmission line (in full compliance with Maine law) was subject to lengthy and rigorous PUC, DEP and LUPC scrutiny. All three of these impartial state agencies approved the project after multiple public hearings (hearings that allowed the full involvement of those opposed to the project) and with strict conditions that protect Maine ratepayers and the environment.

Unable to prevail in any of the forums established to regulate CMP projects, disgruntled opponents of the transmission line took two approaches: they challenged the PUC approval in court, and they sought to use Maine’s initiative procedures to compel the PUC to reverse its order of approval.

The court challenge failed — Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court sustained the PUC’s order. It found that “… the Commission reasonably interpreted and applied the relevant statutory mandates …”

Avangrid’s present suit addresses the second approach of those opposed to the CMP project; it does not challenge initiative rights laid out in Maine’s Constitution — on the contrary, it would uphold these rights as written. Read the document. Article IV, part 3, §18 clearly states: “The electors may propose to the Legislature for its consideration any bill, resolve or resolution … by written petition addressed to the Legislature or to either branch thereof…” In other words, the Constitution clothes the people (electors) with the power to initiate, create wholly new legislation (or to amend existing legislation) by proposing the same to the Legislature. That’s it. There is nothing more.

Initiatives may not amend the Maine Constitution; a fortiori, an initiative may not expand the grant of initiative powers; it may not be devoid of legislative content (as is the present initiative); it may not be addressed to the PUC; and, contrary to project opponents and Mr. Bennett’s views, an initiative may not mandate the reversal of a quasi-judicial order issued by a state regulatory body.

In sum, Maine constitutional provisions fashioning citizen initiative rights, by their own terms, limit the scope of the initiative powers granted. The language of the initiative petition speaks for itself. Read it. It is facially at odds with Maine’s Constitution. It would do what the Constitution does not permit.

Avangrid’s suit declares the petition invalid. I agree.

Orlando Delogu, professor of law, Portland

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