Turning Maine into a hellhole won’t bring the mills back

Turning Maine into a hellhole won’t bring the mills back

Another mill is closing in rural Maine. The shuttering of the Madison mill leaves over 200 people out of work. Is there anything that can be done about the loss of paper-related jobs in Maine? And if not, what should Maine be doing to move forward?

Governor LePage’s solution is to write nasty letters to Democrats demanding that they lower Maine’s standards on environmental protection and the well-being of workers so much that we will be able to compete with the clearcutting and near slave labor in China. Anything less is socialism, apparently.

The fact is, there’s very little Maine can do to stop the closure of paper mills. Paper is a global market, and it no longer favors us. Demand is down because we all use email these days, while competition is fierce from companies being able to locate overseas. The federal government could possibly help by reworking international trade agreements or imposing tariffs, but there’s not a whole lot Maine legislators can do.

Governor LePage complains about the high cost of energy, but he tends to focus his ire on eliminating Maine’s investments in renewable energy, something that would cost a lot in jobs and environmental health, and gain us little at the meter. Just this week, Republican leaders in the legislature made a move to undermine a bill that extends “net metering,” a program that incentivizes homeowners to install solar panels by allowing them to sell the excess energy they generate back to the grid. It is estimated to have created 400 solar panel installation jobs so far, and will create an additional 800 if extended. It seems strange logic that Paul LePage would try to blame Democrats for the 200 jobs lost in Madison, while his Republican allies simultaneously try to wipe out 1,200 jobs in a developing industry.

The real bottleneck in energy is getting more natural gas pipelines built, but again, this has little to do with Maine legislators. While Maine Republican and Democratic legislators agree that more pipelines are needed, natural gas pipelines cross many states, and have to be negotiated by governors and approved by the federal government.

Suppose Maine were to eliminate our commitment to developing renewable energy, depress workers’ already low wages, eliminate most of our environmental regulations, and stop asking big business to pay their fair share of taxes. What then? Would the mills come back? Probably not. The level of environmental and human degradation we would have to reach to be able to compete with the developing world would be unacceptable to most Mainers (with the possible exception of Governor LePage).

Rather than embarking on a race to the bottom, Maine should be investing in our people to create a twenty-first century, well educated and skilled work force. We need to be investing in our infrastructure, protecting our resources, and encouraging industry with a future, such as renewable energy. We want companies to come here because they value the great things Maine and its people have to offer, not because we have drastically lowered our standards.

Photo via Flickr/The B’s

About author

April Thibodeau
April Thibodeau 11 posts

April Thibodeau majored in Political Science at the University of Maine and has experience in law, non-profit work and political advocacy. She lives on Westport Island with her husband and two cats and enjoys gardening, homesteading and rural life.

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