Decades ago, I worked for a politician in California who was running for the state legislature. Given his platform and history, the unions should have supported his campaign. Yet most of them did not. While they didn’t necessarily support his opponent, they sat on their hands and didn’t help.
The reason? The candidate and many of the campaign staff were forces behind the passage of some strict rent control ordinances in the state. The trade unions felt that the ordinances, designed to prevent illegal, unfair and inhumane rent increases, sometimes of 100 percent, would lead to a loss of jobs. They argued that if there was a cap on rent increases, no one would invest in either building or buying rental property, resulting in a loss of jobs in that sector.
It was rare that the issue of affordable housing for working class folks, such as members of the building trades, was ever raised as a countervailing element in the discussion of rent control. History has shown that “job creation” frequently trumps such concerns as the provision of affordable housing, environmental protection, the impacts of solid waste facilities on abutters or whether a project’s scale is in keeping with its neighboring projects.
To this day, I am bemused at how anyone can look at job creation and land use in isolation, without looking at the overall societal impact of an action that is supported because it will “create jobs.” This is nowhere as evident as in the dialogue about how the construction of industrial wind facilities will create green jobs.
At every public hearing that LURC holds on an industrial wind project (the DEP does not hold public hearings on industrial wind projects, so the discussion doesn’t exist for projects that go before the DEP), there is an argument put forth on the part of the applicant that the project will create jobs, lots of them, as well as having economic trickle-down into the community.
Yet there is no acknowledgment that the jobs are short-term construction jobs, the economic trickle-down into the community is likewise short-term, and the remaining jobs, at the facility itself, are few and are often contract workers placed by the supplier of the turbines, not local workers. Using this simplistic, one-sided analysis avoids a discussion of the downside of these jobs, as much as the unions’ opposition to rent-control avoided discussing the downsides of allowing unfettered rent increases in their communities.
A true and open discussion of the green jobs argument in Maine would discuss the costs of such jobs and question whether the costs are worth the benefits. If we provide short-term construction jobs in Down East Maine and put guides, innkeepers, camps and restaurants out of business, is it worth it? Why are we making working people sacrifice their livelihood to create jobs? This will result in a net loss of long-term jobs.
But job creation is not what this is about. Rather, it is about using the green jobs argument to promote industrial developments that are just one more profit center for those who seek to exploit Maine’s natural resources.
It is about time that the impacts of these industrial projects are internalized, so that the agencies that are reviewing them have data available to weigh the economic benefits of the projects against the cost. And that cost must include the closure of small businesses, due to the project’s impacts on scenic values, environmental protection, wildlife, real estate values and human health. We must not allow our communities to be destroyed in the name of so-called green job creation.
The definition of green jobs must be altered. Green jobs should not be defined as those that depend on what is essentially industrial development. Rather, green jobs should be defined as those that sustain our communities, are an intrinsic part of those communities and do no harm to those communities.
Those supplying green jobs are local and it is an oxymoron to even suggest that some national or multinational corporations can supply green jobs. The guides, innkeepers, camp owners and restaurant owners are green employers; the industrial wind developers are not.
Tourism creates 170,000 nonsubsidized jobs in this state and the tourism industry is hearing from its visitors and clients that “when the wind turbines go up, we’re not coming back.” Do we really want to destroy an industry that has sustained our state for over a century for one that is only trying to profit off our state? Think about it — much is at stake.
Lynne Williams is a land use attorney living and working in Bar Harbor.