As the president of the United Steel Workers, Local Union 1097, I work alongside 600 hardworking union members at Georgia-Pacific’s Wauna paper mill. We are proud of what we do, how we do it and why we do it.
We work in facilities that were green before being green was cool. Oregon-based mills rely largely on carbon neutral biomass and hydroelectric power, are energy-efficient and operate with the best-available control technology. Simply put, we are lean, mean, paper-making machines.
However, Oregon’s proposed cap-and-trade legislation places hardworking men and women living here in Clatsop and Columbia and counties at a competitive disadvantage. It will force local mills to secure pulp from outside the state and remove one of our few competitive advantages.
It is essential that local mills stay competitive with those in other states, and even other countries. Production can and will shift internally from company to company. If one mill stops pulp production, they will simply shift that work to a location outside Oregon. The overall company doesn’t suffer. Instead, it’s the individual mills that shut down — leading to job losses and economic peril for the surrounding communities.
Between our members and additional 150 salaried personnel here at our mill, $370 million is spent annually on labor as well as other goods and services critical to our area. That figure doesn’t even account for charitable donations and volunteer work that we do in our communities, including the fact that Wauna mill employees are the largest contributors to the local United Way.
A United Steelworkers Union economist has estimated that the total loss of jobs to our surrounding communities from the closure of the Wauna paper mill could be as high as 2,500 due to the rippling effect of lost revenue by closing a mill of our size. State and local governments can expect losses exceeding $20 million in decreased revenues from their tax base — negatively affecting our schools, public safety and other tax-reliant entities.
What our mill means to this region isn’t unlike the contribution other mills make in communities across Oregon. Pulp and paper mills are regularly among the largest employers in the communities where they operate. Shifting production from Oregon mills to those in other states will devastate local economies and will actually increase global greenhouse gas emissions. That’s right, the proposal — as currently drafted — will cost local jobs and lead to higher carbon emissions globally.
It’s a lose-lose.
Our neighbors to the south have already been down this road. No pulping mills operate in California since enactment of their cap-and-trade legislation.
We know that Oregonians would prefer to buy paper made at Oregon mills, by Oregon workers, and support their local economy. Without a local pulp and paper exemption from the proposed legislation, jobs will shift to mills in other states and countries that rely on much more carbon-intensive power sources — often from fossil fuel resources like coal.
People who work here at Georgia-Pacific’s Wauna mill have tremendous pride and passion about what we do and the contributions that we make to our community. But workers here at our mill are the ones who lose if pulp and paper production isn’t exempted from proposed cap and trade legislation.
We applauded the leadership of state Sen. Betsy Johnson and state Rep. Brad Witt to protect our jobs and oppose the cap-and-trade proposal. We urge Gov. Kate Brown and Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, as well as the 87 others representing communities across Oregon, to follow their lead. As you finalize cap-and-trade legislation, do what’s right and protect our environment and protect local jobs.
Bill Kerr is president of the United Steelworkers, Local Union 1097 and an employee of Georgia-Pacific’s Wauna mill in Clatskanie.