On Monday, Madison Paper Industries announced its decision to close, laying off 214 workers by May 2016. “Demand for supercalendered papers declined significantly in 2015 and the decline is expected to continue. The Madison mill is not cost-competitive and has lost a significant amount of sales in the recent past,” said a company executive. Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette and her department’s Rapid Response team are working to help workers and their families adjust. “Our team can answer questions families will have over the next two months and help them plan for this transition,” said Commissioner Paquette.
The pulp and paper industry in Maine has increasingly been threatened by changing consumer habits, shrinking demand and sagging revenue, forcing several mills to shut down. Eastern Fine Paper in Brewer, which opened in 1895, closed its doors in 2004, putting hundreds of people out of work. In 2003, mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket filed for bankruptcy protection and shut down a few years later. In December 2014, the Verso Paper mill in Bucksport closed, laying off more than 500 workers.
“We are saddened to hear that 214 Mainers will be losing their jobs, and our thoughts go out to them and their families,” said Governor LePage in a statement. “It is more important than ever to make sure Maine is competitive in attracting new job creators and retaining existing companies by lowering taxes, reducing energy costs and providing a welcoming atmosphere for businesses and capital investment.”
In a press statement, Senate President Mike Thibodeau expressed sympathy for the employees of the mill and noted, “It is crucial that this important sector of Maine’s economy remains vibrant in the future.”
Though market forces are largely responsible for these unfortunate closures, Maine’s hostile regulatory environment is partly to blame. In 2011, the Maine Pulp & Paper Association asked lawmakers to align state environmental regulations with federal standards, reform oil spill reporting requirements, revisit water quality rules, and remove unnecessary permitting obstacles. John Williams, president of the Maine Pulp & Paper Association, said that “regulatory reform can eliminate unnecessary burdens unique to Maine operation, yet provide important environmental protection, if done thoughtfully.” Though some legislative action has been taken, many obstacles remain.
In 2015, Representative Poliquin urged the EPA to modify its strict pollution limits that failed to take into account the complex and variable nature of the papermaking process.
Enacting meaningful regulatory reform and removing barriers to business would help Maine’s remaining mills thrive and avoid future closures that hurt hundreds of hardworking Maine families. For more information about unnecessary regulations in Maine, check out The Red Tape Guidebook.