You may be surprised to hear an auto mechanic and rural small-business owner advocate for the Green New Deal, a plan in Congress to move us past our dependence on fossil fuels. However, I support this plan not just because I care about Maine’s environment, but because I care about our jobs and economy.
Facing the crisis of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt introduced the New Deal, a bold series of programs that put millions of Americans back to work and helped us escape from the worst economic crisis in our nation’s history. More than 80 years later, we face an even graver crisis on a global scale, that of climate change. The United Nations’ October report on climate change made it clear that we have only 12 short years to sharply reduce carbon emissions or we will face immediate impacts that would devastate our communities and our economy.
However, where there is crisis there is also opportunity. The Green New Deal is an opportunity not just to tackle climate change, but to supercharge our economy and create countless good jobs in the areas of our state that have been left behind.
Rural Maine communities like mine have struggled for decades to recover as many of our paper mills have downsized and shuttered. At the end of 1990 we had 15,000 jobs in mills. In 2017, we had just over 3,000. Implementing the Green New Deal means investing in the working families currently being left behind in rural Maine. The plan calls for major construction to overhaul our transportation system and for efficiency renovations to all buildings in the country. That’s going to mean a lot of good-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree and can’t be outsourced, the kind of jobs that the paper mills used to provide.
It would also provide a stimulus to businesses like mine, and help us expand through innovation. For example, we have a great demand for affordable electric vehicles, but public charging stations are still spread too thin here in Maine, especially in our most rural areas. This makes it difficult for many working-class Mainers to go electric because they can’t yet afford a long-range electric vehicle. The Green New Deal would invest in projects such as building charging stations and retrofitting homes that would not only help small businesses like mine, but also provide thousands of good jobs that can’t be outsourced.
I was disappointed to learn that Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins voted against a resolution supporting the Green New Deal. The resolution was not a set of specific policy proposals, but rather the beginning of a conversation. Unfortunately, our senators shut down that conversation, calling the Green New Deal “overly-aggressive” and “unrealistic.”
Those are the same criticisms that FDR faced when he put forward his plan to save our country from the Great Depression. What is truly “overly-aggressive” is the toll that climate change will take on our state if we do not take bold action. What is truly “unrealistic” is putting our heads in the sand while good-quality manufacturing jobs continue to leave our state.
Fortunately, Mainers are not waiting around for our senators to do the right thing. Freshman state Rep. Chloe Maxmin has introduced a Maine version of the Green New Deal. It has been endorsed by the Maine AFL-CIO, which represents 160 local labor unions in our state.
In Washington, Rep. Chellie Pingree has shown great leadership in endorsing the federal Green New Deal and Rep. Jared Golden should as well. Should it pass the House, our senators will have another opportunity to do the right thing, to engage in a conversation about how we can create jobs for laid off mill workers, invest in our rural communities, and protect our crucial seafood and tourism industries.
Tony Giambro of South Paris is the owner of Paris Autobarn.