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Unfair Trade Policy: A Gift That Keeps on Giving

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Brookfield Asset Management, the "global asset manager focused on property, renewable power and infrastructure assets with approximately $150 billion of assets under management," is hoping to sell its Maine Katahdin Paper Mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket for $1 to International Grand Investors Corporation, part of a huge Chinese investment company that has been buying up mills in the United States.

If the sale doesn't go through, Brookfield says it will sell the Katahdin assets, and eliminate 400 - 600 jobs.

What a bargain! Two major manufacturing plants in Maine sold to China for one dollar. It couldn't get any better, right?

On top of the deal between these foreign investment firms, there is a proposed "gift" to the People of Maine -- the Dolby Landfill.

Used to take the waste from the Katahdin Mills owned by Brookfield, this "asset" is one the International Grand Investors don't want in their portfolio. They may buy the mills, but only if the State of Maine takes over the Dolby Landfill, complete with all costs of clean-up and environmental liability.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection estimates it will cost $254,100 per year to maintain Dolby, and $17,019,420.00 to close the part that "historically had persistent capacity issues causing significant leachate overflows" and to take care of "needed groundwater remediation to address sitewide contamination."

Who can blame these International Grand Investors for wanting to dump the Dolby Landfill? Their job is to maximize profit and minimize risk. In the global economy there are no rules, and thanks to really bad trade deals, the United States continues to lose jobs to foreign manufacturers who can make things cheaper because of low wages and no enforceable environmental, labor, health or other public interest standards. If Maine can't offer up the mills free of environmental liability, these grand investor types will go elsewhere.

So what do you get when you mix bad trade policy, unregulated multinational corporations, economic insecurity and a hard-working Maine community desperate for jobs? Powerful investment behemoths making more and more money, while workers, the environment and communities spiral downward, unprotected by local governments held hostage.

Who can blame the Maine legislators who voted for LD 1567, A Resolve to Authorize the State To Aquire a Landfill in the Town of East Millinocket? Every state lawmaker wants to help Maine people get jobs, and Congressman Michaud is shoring up as many government benefits possible for communities ravaged by economic depression and the exodus of jobs overseas.

Government manages risks, too. "Without intervention, the private sector might pass on the Katahdin region, taking a traditional industry and hundreds of manufacturing jobs from the Maine economy. This is one of those occasions where the state should step in and do what the free market will not."

In today's global economy, the "free market" is like the "free landfill."

Can Maine workers really compete with China when the People's Republic directly subsidizes export industries including pulp and paper products, pegs its currency artificially low (an effective subsidy of 40 percent according to the Economic Policy Institute), and denies basic labor rights to its industrial workers?

Are we really free to choose between Made in America and Made in China?