Maine’s governor vetoes offshore wind bill, breaking with Biden’s labor pledge

Source: By Maxine Joselow, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) speaks at a news conference in Augusta on Jan. 17. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Maine Gov. Janet Mills on Monday vetoed a bill that sought to boost the state’s offshore wind industry, saying the measure could exclude a majority of the state’s construction workers because of its labor standards.

The decision put the Democratic governor at odds with the Biden administration, which has repeatedly pledged that new clean-energy jobs will be well-paying union jobs.

“We would expect this type of resistance from a Republican governor. But to have a Democratic governor impeding the president’s agenda is something that we just didn’t expect,” said Francis Eanes, executive director of the Maine Labor Climate Council, a coalition of a dozen unions across the state.

The veto comes as offshore wind power is poised to play a crucial role in helping Maine meet its climate goals, according to the state’s Offshore Wind Roadmap, an extensive plan developed by the governor’s office in consultation with outside experts.

The roadmap concludes that “it is highly implausible that Maine will be able to achieve its future energy requirements using solely onshore renewable energy sources.” Instead, it projects that Maine will need 2.1 to 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2050.

“When it comes to meeting the climate targets, offshore wind is the biggest lever we can pull,” said Kathleen Meil, senior director of policy and partnerships for Maine Conservation Voters, an environmental group.

The bill, L.D. 1847, actually originated from Mills’s office. It was initially intended to set environmental standards for ports that support the manufacturing, construction and operation of offshore wind projects.

But Democratic lawmakers amended the bill to require companies to use project labor agreements, or PLAs, when working on port projects. PLAs generally mandate that companies pay a prevailing wage and hire registered apprentices. Labor advocates have argued nothing would exclude non-unionized companies from bidding for a PLA.

But in a letter to lawmakers, Mills said this requirement could disadvantage Maine-based construction workers, since more than 90 percent of them are not unionized. She has said the PLA requirement would have a “chilling effect” on non-unionized firms.

“I do not believe any of us want to see out-of-state workers being bussed up to coastal Maine to build our offshore wind port while Maine workers are sidelined, sitting at home,” she wrote.

Mills is also threatening to veto another bill because PLAs were included. L.D. 1895 would set a target for Maine to reach 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2040.

Since taking office in January 2019, Mills has rolled out an ambitious climate agenda with the motto “Maine can’t wait.”

  • In June 2019, Mills signed a law requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.
  • And in February, the governor announced a goal of reaching 100 percent clean electricity by 2040.

Mills has also been a vocal advocate for installing floating wind turbines in the deep waters of the Gulf of Maine — so much so that many lobstermen feel the governor “isn’t doing enough to defend their livelihood,” the Bangor Daily News reported.

“The Gulf of Maine has some of the strongest wind speeds in the world, representing a large source of potential energy for Maine and New England,” Mills said at a February summit hosted by the Biden administration.

Yet Mills has broken with the Biden administration when it comes to including strong labor standards in signature climate policies.

  • Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act provided billions of dollars for clean-energy tax credits that increase exponentially if companies meet prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements.
  • The 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law also created grant programs for port revitalization that prioritize applicants who use strong labor standards.

Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, said it is “deeply disappointing” that Mills has rejected this approach.

“The governor’s climate motto is ‘Maine won’t wait,’ but with this veto, Governor Mills is saying quite clearly that Maine will wait for thousands of good jobs, clean energy and the build out of a new industry,” Schlobohm said.

But Jack Parker, chairman and CEO of Reed & Reed, a contractor based in Woolwich, Maine, praised the governor’s veto.

“All of our employees chose to work in a non union environment,” Parker said in an email. “Why should politicians decide to exclude our employees and the rest of the 90% of Maine construction workers from participating in Offshore Wind?”

The Maine Legislature was supposed to adjourn last week. But lawmakers are staying in session and racing to complete unfinished business before the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Maine state Sen. Chip Curry, a Democrat who sponsored L.D. 1847, said he is in talks with the governor’s office about amending the bill to secure her support, although he declined to share details of those conversations.

“In the governor’s letter, she indicated an openness to continuing negotiations,” Curry said. “So we’re still fully in it. We’re looking to see where there’s common ground.”