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Governor Calls for New Legislature to Save Maine’s Paper Industry

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According to a report this week by the Portland Press Herald, Portland, Me., USA, Governor Paul LePage used his town hall forum in Mexico on Tuesday (March 22) to urge residents to support legislative candidates who will back his policy agenda, including proposals that he asserts will lower energy costs.

This past week, OTW featured some of the initial political commentary from the region on the fallout related to the sudden closure of the Madison paper mill. This week, the governor framed his call for lower energy costs as a way to preserve Maine’s rapidly declining paper industry. The report said that LePage addressed the plight of the paper industry by arguing that Democrats in Augusta (the state capital where legislation is made) have pursued alternative energy, thereby increasing energy costs and hastening the demise of an industry that once employed 18,000 workers and now employs just under 3,350.

"We have to keep those mills alive," LePage said.

The governor said the closure of the paper mill in Madison was "partially due to energy costs," a reference to his repeated calls to increase natural gas in Maine. The Madison mill converted its oil boiler to natural gas in 2013. UPM Madison, the owner of the mill, signed a deal with Summit Natural Gas of Maine in 2013.

In announcing its closure on March 14, the mill’s parent company, UPM-Kymmene and Northern SC Paper, cited a declining demand for supercalendered paper. LePage has acknowledged the declining demand for supercalendered paper in addressing UPM’s decision, but he has also used the pending closing to criticize what he calls burdensome regulations and high energy costs. LePage also said that he met with two corporations that were interested in buying paper mills in Maine. He did not identify the companies and said they declined to invest here because Maine is too costly a place to do business.

The governor’s call for a new legislature comes with voters set to elect lawmakers in November. LePage has frequently complained that the legislature has foiled his policy agenda and he has repeatedly used his town hall forums around the state to call for a new batch of lawmakers who are more willing to embrace his ideas. LePage frequently referred to Democrats in the Legislature as the "opposition party" on Tuesday and specifically named two of them. LePage also criticized a compromise proposal to boost solar power development in Maine 12-fold over five years. He said proposals like the solar bill would raise electricity rates.

"As long as the people of Maine keep sending these people to Augusta, there’s nothing I can do," he said.

Lawmakers have countered that the governor is interested only in capitulation, not compromise. LePage’s comments were delivered to an audience with a vested interest in the paper industry.

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