Gov. Paul LePage used his forum in Mexico on Tuesday to urge residents to support legislative candidates who will back his policy agenda, including proposals that he asserts will lower energy costs.
The governor framed his call for lower energy costs as a way to preserve Maine’s rapidly declining paper industry. Mexico is next to Rumford, the home of one of Maine’s remaining six paper mills. LePage addressed the plight of the paper industry, arguing that Democrats in Augusta 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 Inc. and Northern SC Paper Corp., cited a declining demand for supercalendered paper – the glossy, coated paper used in magazines and other products. 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 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.
In September, Catalyst, the new owner of the Rumford paper mill, opted to shut down its coated paper machine indefinitely, laying off 51 people.
The Canadian company bought the Rumford mill for $62.5 million in 2015.
Source : pressherald.com