Article by Karl Hokkanen & Griffin Spear, students at Camden Hills Regional High School
The CMP Corridor proposal is a 145 mile long corridor stretching through much of Maine’s North Woods. 53 miles of this is unbroken forest, while the other 92 miles would run alongside existing transmission lines. It is advertised to be beneficial in many ways, such as providing clean energy, providing jobs, and only running through areas that have been logged or already have transmission lines, but all of these arguments are quickly and easily shut down. The first, that it provides green energy, is not entirely true. While it is hydro power and comes from a dam, it is not by any means clean. Hydro power leads to not only carbon being put in the atmosphere, but methane too, which is a greenhouse gas over eighty times more potent than carbon. Even if it was clean, this energy is only going through Maine, it won’t actually provide the energy to Mainers themselves. Since it is an AC line, energy can’t be drawn from the middle of it. The hydropower just goes from Quebec all the way to Massachusetts. Now, the energy is still being used, but only by a different buyer. According to the National Resources Council of Maine, “The proposed project is not about climate. It’s about making CMP more money. It’s a shell game to sell existing hydropower to Massachusetts because they’ve agreed to pay more for it.” The energy the corridor will transport isn’t new, it's just being sent to a different buyer who will pay more than CMP’s previous buyer. Hydro-Quebec and CMP even said themselves that no new generation capacity for hydro power will be made as part of the project. The previous buyers of this hydro power will additionally be forced to buy energy from dirtier sources, such as fossil fuels, because it got rerouted to Massachusetts. Even if the energy was new and going to Massachusetts, it still wouldn’t provide any benefit to Mainers. Instead, it would just make those who get energy from CMP have higher energy rates because they need more income to pay for their advertising and the actual construction of it. It may provide some jobs to Mainers, but even this will be negligible. Initially CMP promised 3500 jobs, then it went down to 1600, and these jobs may not even be long-term or permanent. One more way in which it could even hurt Maine’s economy is through the tourism industry. The corridor would be visible from the Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway during multiple parts of it. Having a large streak of clear cut transmission lines would harm the tourist industry in this region.
The CMP Corridor would not only provide no benefit or clean energy to Mainers, but it would speed up the process of deforestation and forest fragmentation in Maine. These are both two extremely harmful processes to Maine’s ecosystems and environment. The CMP Corridor leads through 53 miles of forest in Maine’s woods that do not already have existing transmission lines. While CMP claims that these areas have already been logged for generations, logging is very different from clearcutting. What CMP plans to do and has already begun doing is cutting down all trees and killing most plants in an area 150 feet wide. They are even allowed to clearcut as much as 300 feet all around the line. In areas where high energy lines run, which would include this one, CMP would also spray herbicide all throughout the corridor every few years, ensuring that there was no regeneration or plant growth in the area. After contacting a logging company that operates out of Maine, it is clear that logging practices and clearcutting are on completely different levels. When asked if they clear cut the areas they log, they responded by saying that they do sometimes clear cut areas if they are very diseased or pest-ridden, or for changing the stock of the area. However, the biggest difference between logging and the CMP Corridor is in regeneration. According to the correspondent, “We try to leave parent trees which will regenerate the area with natural regeneration. It is estimated we can get natural regeneration from as far away as 500' from a large pine. If we don't have parent trees to leave for natural regeneration we will replant an area by hand.” This contrasts with what CMP would be doing, which is clear cutting and then purposefully preventing the regeneration of the land. In addition, though the logging company does use clear cutting as a tool, they don’t cut down wildlife trees, which are identified as big trees that look like den trees for wildlife. They also leave disease resistant beech trees, apple trees, or shade trees around brooks uncut. CMP would not be able to do this, needing to cut down all trees regardless of their species, age, size, or anything else. Another big difference between how the area under question would be used by loggers or by CMP is that the loggers use 100% of the tree. “We use 100% of the tree, any part of the tree that is not merchantable or used to minimize soil erosion we can chip it and burn the biomass in our CHP (Combined Heat and Power Plant) that produces 8.5 Megawatts of power, uses the extraction steam from the turbine to dry our lumber and also heat our plant in the winter time. The power is sent to Belfast and distributed to businesses and residential houses in our area. Having a Biomass plant in Searsmont provides a market for the area logging contractors who don't have another market for low grade pulp wood since the Verso Paper mill in Jay lost the digesters in the explosion. It also gives our lumber mill an outlet for our residuals such as sawdust and bark.” CMP may or may not use the wood they cut down, though they have hired a company called Northern Clearing to cut down the trees they want. Northern Clearing is from Wisconsin, though, another way in which Maine is getting no jobs or benefit to the economy. Clearly replacing a logging company with CMP for the 53 miles would have a bad impact on the forest, but another thing CMP says in its ads is that the rest of it will run alongside existing transmission lines. This does not mean they will be on the same tower. CMP will still need to cut down another 150 feet of trees beside the existing transmission lines to put this one. The same amount of trees are being cut down regardless of whether or not the line is next to existing ones. This stretch of 92 miles where CMP is cutting down trees next to the existing lines will still contribute to forest fragmentation and deforestation. Though it is not separating any new sections of forest, it is making the passageway between sections longer, so animals that don’t like to leave the forest will be less likely to be able to cross. Both deforestation and forest fragmentation negatively affect the climate and environment, and they will both be furthered by the CMP Corridor.
Now, you may be wondering what is even so bad about forest fragmentation, or about deforestation, or even climate change. Well, deforestation has many detrimental effects on the environment, disrupting the natural ecosystem. The removal of trees from the environment destroys habitat for other plants and animals. Many creatures rely not only on the forest’s protection but on the relations with other animals and plants. The destruction of the forest removes a vital piece in the ecosystem, possibly leading to long recovery or even local extinctions. The process of clear cutting itself is also disruptive to the forest; the sudden appearance of loud, destructive machinery is a threat to animals and plants. There is also the presence of pollution from this equipment. Fuel leaks, toxic fumes, litter, these are damaging to the surrounding environment. This leaves the soil unsuitable for growing, preventing much needed regeneration for the forest. The cutting down of trees is essentially cutting down animal habitats and vital resources for the forest. A simple tree dying is not the same as cutting one down. The natural death of a tree still allows its use by animals and its nutrients are recycled back into the soil. However, with clear cutting, the tree is completely removed from the site. This harms the ecosystem and prevents easy regeneration of the flora. Deforestation can also have effects on the landscape itself. It can cause desertification and the removal of tree roots can cause soil erosion. These factors completely prohibit the regrowth of a forest in the vicinity. These effects pose a huge threat to forests and their inhabitants, leading to a great loss of environment. One such inhabitant, the brook trout, which also happens to be one of the most fished fish, will be particularly affected. The CMP Corridor would run through one of the largest areas of brook trout. The transmission line would cut through 724 lakes, ponds, and wetlands. CMP has also refused to provide protection for brook trout. Roads involved with the project would additionally cross 184 streams. The cutting down of all the trees would increase headwaters, possibly making some of the habitat where they used to thrive unsuitable for brook trout to do well in. Brook trout are not even the only case, there are many similar instances with other animals that will be just as affected. According to the NRCM, “this destruction would clear trees and plants through 263 wetlands, across 115 streams, and near remote Beattie Pond. It would disrupt 12 areas that provide critical protection for inland waterfowl and wading birds.” It would also, according to Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, harm Maine’s deer population by restricting access to deer winter shelter and feeding grounds. It could also totally stop deer from moving through these areas to find food or escape predators when snow is deep. Overall, deforestation has hugely negative effects on the environment and the animals that live there.
Deforestation also affects the climate in a very negative way, speeding up the effects of climate change through multiple different processes. The most obvious of these processes is that trees and plants take in CO2 and output oxygen just by living. A whole forest in total absorbs huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. By not having forests because they were cut down, much carbon is left in the atmosphere when it would have otherwise been absorbed. Indeed, the average hardwood tree absorbs around one ton of carbon dioxide by the time it is 40 years old. If each tree is ten feet away from the next, that would result in having about 435 trees in an acre. To put that amount of carbon in perspective, Maine produced 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide for the whole year of 2018. The 10.5 million acre North Woods of Maine would have absorbed over 105 million tons of carbon dioxide in that year. Clearly trees make a huge difference when they are alive and absorbing carbon dioxide. However, cutting down trees not only speeds up climate change by stopping carbon intake, but all the carbon that a tree takes in over its lifespan is released back into the atmosphere when it decomposes or is burned. This means that each 40 year old tree cut down releases about a ton of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, in addition to stopping more carbon dioxide from being taken out of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide from the soil is also freed up back into the atmosphere when trees are removed, making a bigger impact. These are not even the only effects deforestation has on speeding up climate change though. Deforestation mitigates the effects of evapotranspiration. According to editors on the research paper around carbon-cycle effects from large-scale deforestation, “Previous studies have shown that deforestation in the tropics would decrease evapotranspiration rates and increase sensible heat fluxes, resulting in regionally decreased precipitation and increased surface temperature” (https://www.pnas.org/content/104/16/6550/) In addition, the albedo of Earth, which is basically its reflectiveness, is changed when deforestation occurs. Typically, lighter colors reflect more heat, and darker colors absorb more heat. When a forest is cut down and instead replaced by shingled buildings, paved roads, and darker colors, the albedo of the area goes way up. Much more heat energy is absorbed where it hits Earth, speeding up Climate Change further.
So, if deforestation speeds up climate change, how is climate change going to affect Maine and its environment? The answer is grim. Even in the best outcome possible, Maine’s temperature would change enough to force much of the wildlife to migrate North, along with making it uninhabitable for many plants as well. Many marine species are already moving into northern waters. Animals like lobster and herring need the cold water as their habitat. Much of Maine’s economy relies on these creatures, if they move away from Maine’s fishing grounds thousands will be put out of their jobs and the economy will be severely impacted. However, this is the best outcome; if the future is slightly worse, most plants would stop growing in Maine, and trees would die rapidly. There would also be an increase of disease and infection in forests, possibly wiping out much of them. An increased risk for forest fires would also appear, again destroying much woodland. Fires release much carbon into the air, which would further impact climate change. The sea level could also rise by as much as a meter or more, making problems for much of Maine's coastal areas, which also happen to house much of its tourism industry. Ocean acidification would also speed up, making it harder for crustaceans and animals with shells, such as crab, clam, oyster, lobster, and muscle, to survive. This is because of a process called calcification, which is where there is less available calcium carbonate in the water, which is what these animals require to make their shells. In more dire situations of climate change, the oceans could rise even more than a meter; food could become scarce for Mainers, especially since the farming industry in northern Maine would be almost entirely shut down; forests could completely die off in Maine; there would be a massive influx of displaced refugees from warmer regions; and Maine’s hydropower industry would be destroyed. Maine’s economy would be in shambles as its farming, fishing, and logging industries disappeared due to climate change.
Another harmful effect that would be brought on by the CMP Corridor is forest fragmentation. Forest fragmentation is when large stretches of unbroken forest are separated into multiple smaller patches by roads, agricultural developments, utility corridors such as the CMP corridor, or other human-caused events. Forest fragmentation can be at varying levels of severity, but any degree of it is harmful. Forest fragmentation, destroys habitat, disrupts wildlife movement, and results in more forest edges, all of which lead to decreased biodiversity. The first of these, habitat loss, is defined as the destruction of the conditions necessary for plants and animals to survive. Habitat loss not only affects specific species, but the ecosystem as a whole. Habitat loss is one of the biggest results of forest fragmentation, leaving the plants and animals previously using the habitat without shelter. Many species can become endangered or even extinct if they lose too much of their habitat. Another downside of forest fragmentation is that it disrupts the normal movement of wildlife. Whenthere is no free route from one region to another, animals cannot do as well, and there is more frequent animal to human contact. The last main drawback of forest fragmentation is that it results in many more forest edges. Forest edges are typically brighter, hotter in the day, have stronger winds, and have reduced humidity. While this may not seem important, it can disrupt the microenvironment at the edge of the forest. Species that are highly sensitive to this change can be greatly affected, either needing to move deeper into the forest or having greatly reduced survival and reproduction rates. Another thing forest edges can increase the chances of is wildfires. Since forest edges are typically drier, hotter, and windier, a fire at a forest edge has the potential to be disastrous. The heat and dryness will mean that the fire will catch and spread much faster, along with the wind to spread it even farther. Proposals such as the CMP corridor that stretch throughout many miles of forest, in this case 145 miles, are one big cause of forest fragmentation.
To conclude, the main reasons that the CMP Corridor Proposal should be rejected are that it will not benefit Maine’s economy, it will increase forest fragmentation, it will increase deforestation, and it will not provide any new clean energy. In fact, it may even make it harder for new sustainable energy sources to export their electricity from Maine because the CMP Corridor could clog up Maine’s power grid.
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