BANGOR, Maine — In what appears to be a sign of the times, the Maine Pulp and Paper Association has announced that it is disbanding effective immediately.
Conna Cassese, the association’s chair, sent an email on Friday informing members that in the wake of ongoing mill closures, the 50-year-old trade organization no longer had enough support to continue its mission of representing the state’s pulp and papermaking companies, according to an online post by Maine Environmental News.
“The need for a unified voice for the pulp and paper industry is as strong as ever and we are exploring several alternatives to meet this need,” she wrote.
Efforts to reach the association by telephone and email were not immediately successful Sunday.
In recent decades, the state’s pulp and paper companies have been hit hard by increased automation and global changes in the industry as well as high energy costs and decreased demand.
Over the past decade, more than half of the state’s paper mills have closed, leaving only eight in Jay, Skowhegan, Westbrook, Baileyville, Rumford, Madawaska, Auburn and Waterville, according to a report by RESTORE: The North Woods published before the most recent paper mill closure in Madison in May 2016.
The Madison paper mill shutdown made for five major closures in the previous three years, following shutdowns in East Millinocket, Lincoln, Old Town and Bucksport.
And even the decade-old total was down from the 25 paper mills that were operating in 1980.
More recently, Verso Corp.’s mill in Jay announced in November that it would lay off 190 workers in early 2017.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce, sent in March of last year, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King called the situation “ an economic crisis of unprecedented magnitude,” echoing what they said they’ve heard from people in rural communities affected by the closures.
The Maine Pulp and Paper Association’s website lists 21 members, most of which are companies that support the pulp and paper industry, such as energy, engineering, consulting and chemical concerns. Its members represent $113 million in tax money each year, according to its website, and support directly and indirectly 17,000 jobs.