I’m the plant manager for General Electric’s factory in Bangor. Our more than 400 employees manufacture components for heavy-duty gas and steam turbines, mostly for export. These exports are financed by a little-known but critical institution called the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Ex-Im has been operating for more than 80 years, has enjoyed broad bipartisan support and makes money for U.S. taxpayers.
Because of congressional inaction, Ex-Im Bank is closed. We’re at risk of losing deals because our overseas customers cannot purchase our products without the type of financing that Ex-Im Bank used to provide.
Last week, General Electric announced it is putting the equivalent of 500 jobs in Europe and China to do work that historically has been performed in Maine and other states. The reason? There are upcoming deals where our customers require Ex-Im’s type of financing. Those other countries can provide it, and the U.S. cannot. GE has to move production to compete.
Recently Verso Paper Corp. announced layoffs for 300 employees. Maine’s 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin issued a statement saying that “[f]ar too many Mainers have lost their livelihoods as a result of increased foreign competition” and calling for a “Rapid Response team” to help affected workers.
Poliquin recently visited our facility and saw the investment GE is making in its factory and people. GE wants to keep this factory full and the work here. Poliquin can help by supporting Ex-Im Bank now, instead of finding resources later for unnecessarily displaced workers.
Proclaiming ourselves to be “No. 1” harms us when it prevents us from seeing good ideas in other nations. Scandinavian countries have a lot to teach us if we are willing to learn. They have some of the world’s highest standards of living and rank among the happiest and most satisfied populations. Successful businesses call that “customer satisfaction.” Among things those people like are good health care for all, at much lower cost than ours; free public education through college; and well-maintained infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.
Because we have been sold on the idea that this sort of “socialism” is bad, we can’t go there. After all, those public benefits must be paid for by taxes, including substantial taxes on high incomes and inheritances. Sadly, in order to avoid such taxes, we choose to live in relative squalor — except for the wealthy among us. Who needs good roads when they have private planes or good public education or public health when they can afford private payment? As Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”
Scandinavian countries are democracies. Their people keep voting for socialism because it allows a good life for most people. They appear to understand that a healthy and well-educated public benefits all. How long will we Americans demean that because we have been sold on the idea that “socialism” can only be bad instead of looking for ways to make our country better?
The advantage of living in the information age is easy access to old information, such as the Maine Department of Transportation’s previous rationale regarding the I-395 connector when it eliminated an identical alternative (2B) from further consideration 12 years ago. Then, the department said: “Traffic congestion and conflicting vehicle movements on this section of Route 9 would substantially increase the potential for new safety concerns and hazards … would inadequately address the system linkage and traffic congestion needs.” It continued: “The lack of existing access controls and the inability to effectively manage access along this section of Route 9, and the number of left turns, contribute to the poor LOS [level of service] and safety concerns … would negatively affect people living along Route 9 in the study area … would severely impact local communities along Route 9 between proposed alternative connection points and Route 46.”
How an alternative deemed completely unacceptable in 2003 would suddenly and magically become completely acceptable in 2015 for an expenditure of $61 million in scarce transportation dollars is mind boggling at best. It seems the negative impacts to the people that live on or near this ill-conceived alternative are no longer considered substantive impacts.
After spending $2.75 million studying 79 plus alternatives over 15 years, an alternative (2B-2) that does not satisfy the study’s original purpose and needs and was removed from further consideration 12 years ago by state and federal professionals, is now the preferred alternative for the I-395/Route 9 connector?
I was excited to see the news that the University of Maine System has reduced its carbon emissions by 26 percent over the last decade. It is measures such as these and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan that are more than welcome news in a year that is set to surpass 2014 as the hottest year on record.
But we are certainly not out of the woods yet. Fossil fuels continue to be burned at an alarming rate. A new study showed that if we burn all the world’s fossil fuel reserves, the Antarctic ice sheet is certain to melt entirely. This is bad news for coastal communities, including many here in Maine.
That is why we must keep most of the Earth’s fossil fuels where they belong: in the ground. But our elected officials have a different idea. Last Thursday, a U.S. House of Representatives committee voted to overturn a decades-long ban on exports of domestic crude oil. This is a terrible idea that would result in up to 7,600 more oil wells being drilled in the U.S., up to 3.3 million barrels of oil drilled per day, and 22 million metric tons of additional global warming pollution — the equivalent of five coal-fired power plants.
That is why I am urging our federal delegation, Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin and Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, to show their leadership on behalf of Maine people and the environment we depend on and oppose overturning the ban.