By Hunter Bischoff
A map of the proposed CMP corridor route as well as the towns that oppose or have rescinded their support. Source: https://www.nrcm.org/programs/climate/proposed-cmp-transmission-line-bad-deal-maine/
Opponents of the Central Maine Power (CMP) Corridor just reached a milestone in their fight against the infrastructure project which would provide Massachusetts with Canadian hydroelectric power.
The opposition group, known by their ubiquitous “No CMP Corridor” yard signs, announced on February 3rd that they collected more than 75,000 signatures from Mainers who want a referendum on the fate of the corridor. Late last year, the state said that 63,067 valid signatures were needed to put the CMP corridor question onto the November ballot.
The proposed corridor would bring energy produced by Hydro-Quebec into the Northeast’s energy grid and is supported by the Maine Land Use Planning Commission and governor Janet Mills. The average Mainer, however, opposes the project. You hear it in the public hearings, read it on the yard signs, and see it written in the press: Mainers believe the CMP corridor is a foul deal.
But with all the focus on the corridors’ impact on Maine, the public dialogue about this project lacks any consideration of its effect on the people of Canada and the rivers where Hydro-Quebec builds their dams.
How are Mainers concerns about the corridor and alternatives to natural gas related to Hydro-Quebec and the First Nations of Canada?
I want to tell you the story of a river, the Churchill River, located in Labrador Canada and the second longest river on the eastern Canadian seaboard. The river is being dammed into oblivion by two Canadian government owned hydroelectric companies, Nalcor and Hydro-Quebec.
For the past few years, the people of Labrador fought to stop the creation of a mega dam on the Churchill called Muskrat Falls. In 2016 The people of Labrador, led by indigenous land protectors, protested and appealed to the Canadian government to compromise with the demands of the Indigenous NunatuKavut government. Unfortunately, by the summer of 2019, the movement to stop this dam failed and Nalcor started to flood the reservoir behind Muskrat Falls.
A problem with some hydroelectric projects is that when the reservoir behind a dam floods, it creates a perfect environment for a specialized bacterium that turns naturally occurring mercury into methylmercury, a neurotoxin, that can enter the food chain and impact human health. According to recent 2020 study in a scientific journal on toxicology, methylmercury is especially dangerous to the fetus and exposure can cause cognitive and motor deficits in children.
Methylmercury directly threatens the health and culture of the indigenous people of Labrador. In Labrador food prices are astronomical, and the only way many people can maintain healthy diets is to hunt and fish. If the Innu and Inuit who surround the Churchill and Lake Melville cannot hunt seal and eat fish because of the threat of mercury poisoning, then they cannot pass down an essential part of their culture to their children.
In the words of Amy Norman, Labrador resident and indigenous rights activist, building dams is cultural genocide.
In 2016, while they were negotiating with the Canadian Government, the Inuit Nunatsiavut government collaborated with researchers from the university of Harvard to study the threat of methylmercury in Labrador.
The researchers discovered that the Churchill and where it drains out, Lake Melville, are uniquely vulnerable to the negative impacts of big hydroelectric projects. The study recommends a strategy to mitigate methylmercury production.
Not surprisingly, considering the Canadian government’s historical relationship with the tribes, the government did not follow through with the mitigation tactics as the researchers suggested before they started operations at Muskrat. With each new dam Canada builds, the greater the health risks are for the people of the First Nations of Labrador.
What’s worse, Canada plans to build one more dam on the Churchill.
The next big hydroelectric project planned for the Churchill River is called Gull Island, and it will produce energy to be sold to the Northeast United States via energy corridors like the CMP. Since the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador cannot afford the Gulls Island project on its own, it plans to partner with the Quebec government and Hydro-Quebec to complete this project. If the state of Maine approves of the CMP corridor, then Hydro Quebec is further encouraged to follow through with Gull Island.
If the Gull Island project is completed, the food indigenous people rely on in the Churchill and on Make Meville will become even more dangerous to eat. Although the fight to stop Muskrat Falls failed, Mainers can discourage its construction of Gull Island with their vote.
If we in Maine accept the CMP corridor and buy Canada’s “clean” hydroelectric energy, we are complicit in poisoning children.
Instead of pushing the burden of transitioning from natural gas and oil off into Canada and onto those Indigenous communities who are racked by injustice, why do we not find local solutions to our energy goals?
Citizens can instead be empowered to find local answers to the goals of the Maine Green New Deal—energy sovereignty could allow us to not burden The First Nations of Canada with the Northeast’s energy needs . An unjust solution to the climate crisis is no solution at all.
Is supporting hydroelectric really the most political savvy and economic option Janet Mills can support? If the CMP corridor is created, Canada will almost certainly greenlight the Gull Island hydroelectric project. If Hydro Quebec and Nalcor create this dam the Churchill River will turn into one long reservoir, increasing methylmercury concentrations.
The CMP corridor and others like it threaten the Inuit and Inuu communities of Rigolet, North West River, Mud Lake, and Happy Valley Goose Bay. All of these towns surround the Churchill River and Lake Melville, and the poison that leeches into their food supply because of Gull Island and the CMP corridor will not make headlines here in Maine.
We in Maine should reject the CMP corridor in the name of climate justice, environmental stewardship, and energy sovereignty. We need to find just solutions to the climate crisis--and Janet Mills must understand that Canadian hydroelectricity is not it.
A state referendum on the proposed energy corridor would be unprecedented. But then again, it is precedent that led this state and the country toward the climate crisis, environmental degradation, and injustice. This is a clear opportunity for Mainers to step away from the United States long history of making indigenous people suffer in the name of progress. We must not be complicit in the destruction of the Churchill River.