BANGOR, Maine — Emery Deabay, secretary of the United Steelworkers of Maine Local 1188, said he was worried when he heard Congress was looking into clean energy and climate change legislation.
“When I first saw this bill it scared me — to be honest,” said the longtime Bucksport millworker.
However, Debay said Wednesday, after studying the American Clean Energy and Security Act, his attitude changed.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “We need something to develop clean, renewable energy. If it’s done right, it’s going to be good for our country.”
The U.S. House of Representatives has endorsed the legislation, while the Senate is considering it.
His fellow union members voted on Wednesday at the Maine Labor Council-United Steelworkers of Maine conference, held at the Ramada Inn, to support a resolution calling for Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to endorse passage of the clean energy and climate change bill.
The Senate’s version is titled the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. The legislation would limit greenhouse gas emissions, create new emission permit rules, and provide incentives for the creation of renewable energy sources and “clean” energy jobs.
The bill, which is designed to reduce pollution and break the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, especially foreign oil, faces opposition from critics who say it will cause higher energy bills.
Deabay said the bill is a win-win for companies and employees, especially in Maine. He said it would provide time for companies, such as the Verso Mill in Bucksport where he works, to make changes that will improve environment impacts and, in turn, would provide clean energy jobs.
The legislation provides “a chance to transition over the next 15 years — a chance to change,” he said.
“It’s not just [for] our mills,” said Ron Hemmingway, an employee of NewPage mill in Rumford and USW Local 900. “It’s others [industries] in the state” that will benefit.
“We need an energy bill that makes sense for the state of Maine and the country,” he said. “We need this energy bill because it’s also a jobs bill.”
The legislation would go far to help the country’s struggling manufacturing sector, said Marie Bergen, of the Maine Sierra Club.
“Passage of the clean energy bill would create 1.7 million clean energy jobs and up to 10,000 jobs here in Maine,” she said.
In addition to supporting the creation of renewable energy sources — such as wind, tidal power and solar — the bill would also provide funding to train workers in these fields, which are growing by leaps and bounds here in Maine, said Andrew Kain, state director of Repower Maine.
“Maine is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this,” he said, adding that, “The point is to transfer from our dependence on fossil fuels, oil and coal, to renewable fuels.”
Repower Maine, which is leading a coalition of groups in Maine in support of climate-change legislation, is part of Repower America.
“A big part of this bill is also about energy efficiency,” Kain said, adding it could go a long way in helping Mainers who live in some of the oldest housing stock in the nation.
The creation of jobs is the biggest part of the proposed bill, Deabay said.
“It’s important for the county,” he said. “We need to rebuild the middle class.”