Another Mill Closes

WCSH-6 ran the following graphic, on Maine’s mill workforce between 1960 and the present. I saw it flash across the screen during their 5:00 a.m. newscast this morning before heading out for my morning swim at the Y.

The graphic and story looks like it was produced by the NBC affiliate in Bangor, WLBZ-2. The feature was a telling one and I grabbed the screenshot, representing the shedding of paper mill jobs, from their website, just so I’d have it.

The demise of papermaking in Maine; 1960-2015. (WCSH-6)

The demise of papermaking in Maine; 1960-2015. (WCSH-6)

This captures the story of Maine manufacturing—especially the state’s paper industry over the last 50 years-—as well as anything I’ve seen. It also represents a part of Maine’s past that’s disappeared and it’s never coming back.

With the closure of Old Town Fuel and Fiber, another 195 Maine workers have lost their jobs. This follows on the heels of Lincoln Paper and Tissue, which announced it was filing for bankruptcy the day before. In August, Verso Paper in Jay announced that it would be laying off 300 workers.

Maine’s perpetually-angry governor, Paul LePage, blasted the legislature, calling them “stupid.” Of course, as the smartest man whenever he’s in the room, he has a plan to revive papermaking in Maine. It’s all about energy, according to LePage. He says that Maine’s mills can’t compete because our electricity costs are too eye. He wants bigger gas pipelines coming into New England to drive down gas prices for power plants. He also wants Maine to change regulations so we can buy cheaper electricity from Canada.

LePage, along with natural gas flacks like Portland attorney, Tony Buxton, continue trumpeting natural gas as a panacea to all of our state’s economic woes. I wrote about the same issue last December for the short-lived alt weekly, DigPortland. The article remains archived on my freelance writing website if you care to read it.

Here is the video of Don Carrigan’s report that parallels the mill closing report above, also courtesy of WCSH-6.

4 thoughts on “Another Mill Closes

  1. Really sad to see the continued exodus of manufacturing jobs from Maine (and other states). Energy costs are not the issue. Taxes are not the issue. Trained workers and unions are not the problem.
    What is? NAFTA, GATT, TPP are. (All brought to us by Clinton and Obama — so Dems aren’t perfect). Off-shoaring jobs is. Wage disparity is (check out the CEO salaries). We could have the good manufacturing jobs back, but for corporate greed and the consumer demand for cheap Walmart prices. Roll back? Yeah, roll back the jobs. An informed consumer, better regulations, “fair” not “free” trade is the answer.

    • @David The graphic shows we’ve been bleeding manufacturing jobs for 35 years. I wonder what most of those 14,000+ paperworkers are doing now?

      This from The Daily Bulldog, and online news site for Franklin County, on the Verso layoffs in August:

      Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin supported the filing of a petition for Trade Adjustment Assistance in a letter sent to DOL Secretary Thomas Perez on Sept. 9. In it, the delegation cites “[s]hrinking demand attributable to foreign competition” as being responsible for Verso Paper’s decision to scale back its annual production of coated paper.

      On Aug. 20, Verso announced a 40 percent workforce reduction at its Androscoggin Mill in Jay when it shuts down the No. 1 pulp dryer and the No. 2 paper machine sometime in this year’s fourth quarter. That will impact approximately 300 of the 863 people employed by the mill.

      “Given the rural location of the Jay mill and the closures in recent years of other paper mills in the region,” the delegation’s letter reads, “the laid-off workers face an enormous hurdle in identifying and securing alternative employment. Many may require retraining for other emerging occupations, making it crucial that these workers receive certification under the TAA program.”

      What are these “emerging occupations”? Most likely, those that don’t take early retirement will try to scrape along with self-employment; cutting firewood, logging, handyman work…the kinds of self-employment available in rural Maine. The CareerCenters will do little to help them with retraining, as you found out when you experienced your own unemployment.

      The “genie is out of the bottle” with neoliberalism and there’s no way to put her back.

  2. Devo, I would ask you to reconsider the role of cheap energy in this equation, but from a different angle. If you wanted really cheap energy for these plants, let them build hydroelectric generators right there on the river. Let the companies sell the excess locally. But that doesn’t make any money for the natural gas hucksters, and we should keep a running tally of the industrial plants in Maine that converted to “cheap infinite natural gas” that will go under overnight when that fraudulent bubble bursts.

    What made gashes to our industrial arteries like NAFTA possible is exactly cheap energy. It’s cheaper to raise chickens in the USA, send them to China to turn into nuggets and ship them back because the energy costs are so low. When it’s cheaper to cut trees in America, ship them to China to process into paper, and then ship those rolls back to the USA, it’s because the energy costs are so low that the corporations can afford to take advantage of lower wages and lax oversight in foreign countries.

    Most ominous is that costs are artificially low right now due to billions of dollars in subsidies, not to mention outright fraud. The natural gas bubble is built on real estate speculation, the actual cost of extracting and delivering natural gas far exceeds what it’s selling for, but the difference has been made up by hucksters straight out of Glengarry Glen Ross selling natural gas leases. What happens when the paper mill experience and technology has all been shipped to China, but the price of oil returns to its real cost? Then there will be no shipping trees, no shipping paper, and no money left to built hydroelectric, either.

    There is no “growing the economy” anymore. That game is over. Now it’s about managing decline. There is no one in politics man enough to do that, much less Lepage.

  3. Loosehead Prop, I wholeheartedly agree! Cheap fossil fuel energy is the root of many of our evils. We have never (yet) paid the true cost of fossil fuels. For over a century, we have deferred the true costs required to repair the environmental damage from extraction, the pollution from production and consumption, and the climate change resulting from the megatons of liberated carbon. The natural gas bubble/fraud/debacle is just the latest chapter. Responsible hydro, wind, solar (key word responsible) and other renewable energy sources will be integral to “managing decline” — or growth, for that matter.

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