Finger-pointing flourishes in Augusta after Verso layoff announcement

Good morning from Augusta, where there is finger-pointing going on over the downsizing of the Verso paper mill in Jay. 

On Friday, after the announcement that the Verso mill would lay off 300 Jay-based workers, Gov. Paul LePage wrote a letter to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves and Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau, calling the layoffs “extremely troubling and disappointing, but not surprising.” 

“Every decision I make as governor attempts to make Maine more competitive,” wrote LePage. “Unfortunately too many legislators can’t say the same. Their strict adherence to the status quo will surely result in the loss of more jobs.” 

LePage criticized lawmakers for inaction on his goals of working to bring natural gas supplies to northern New England and for resisting his call to eliminate the state’s income tax. He cited three bills sponsored by his administration this year, two of which were defeated and one of which was carried over until next year when the Legislature reconvenes. One of the bills proposed refunding businesses some of the pollution funds collected under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; another would have allowed private businesses to negotiate natural gas contracts through the Public Utilities Commission; and the third would have altered the state’s renewable energy portfolio and the net energy billing program. 

Eves didn’t stand idly by, and fired off a response to LePage on Friday afternoon in which he accused the governor of being “all talk.” 

“Your rhetoric on energy, governor, is all talk. And it is talk that ignores the facts,” wrote Eves. “Legislators from both sides of the aisle realize that we need to address our current energy needs while also diversifying our sources for the future.”

Eves advocated for a continued diversification of Maine’s energy sources, including the pursuit of renewables such as biomass, solar, wind and water-based sources. 

“The states that do this will be the states that lead in sustainable low energy costs, in technological innovation and in job creation,” wrote Eves. “Doing otherwise simply leaves the status quo in place.” 

Eves wrote that the three bills referenced by LePage would have an “adverse affect” on energy policy and that LePage’s advocacy to re-open bids on two approved wind contracts, along with his opposition to a bill this year that sought sought to fix a $38 million typo by adding the word “and” to a 2013 omnibus energy bill, has created unpredictability. 

“I have spoken to many business owners who are discouraged by the lack of predictability in Maine’s energy policy, largely due to your administration’s actions,” wrote Eves. 

The stances of Eves and LePage represent two distinct directions on energy policy, one aimed at more reliance on natural gas — and perhaps, hydropower — and the other devoted to bringing more renewable energy sources like wind and biomass online to create a broader portfolio for the future. 

LePage, who in June erected a Christmas tree with lawmakers’ pictures on it and put rubber pigs under it to symbolize how he saw their action on the biennial state budget, called for an end to “theatrics.” 

“Let’s cut the theatrics and work toward addressing the energy and tax issues that are driving away our businesses,” wrote LePage. “We must act swiftly to avoid another announcement like Verso’s.” — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

A sad salute to Corey Dodge

Another Mainer was lost to war Saturday when a car bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed 40-year-old Corey Dodge of Garland. Please take a moment to read the story by the BDN’s Steve Betts.

Dodge has been working as a private contractor in Afghanistan for the last nine years and was planning to return home in October to settle down with his wife, Kelli, and — here’s the real crippler for me — their four children. He was trying to land a job in law enforcement, perhaps with the Rockland Police Department.

Count your blessings; hug your loved ones. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.