It’s sometimes a dangerous game to play to try to understand the original intent of legislators when they pass certain laws.

In 2002, a law was passed that prohibited the owner of the Millinocket and East Millinocket paper mills from entering into an agreement which would allow it to benefit from the sale of electricity. The law was enacted to protect papermaking jobs. That much is clear. Beyond that, there’s been much confusion about what led to the law’s passage.

While many have said on the record that the 120th Legislature passed the original law because lawmakers were worried that Brascan Corp. (now Brookfield Asset Management), which owned the hydroelectric dams before buying the Great Northern Paper mills out of bankruptcy in 2003, would sacrifice papermaking jobs in order to sell more power.

Though, that’s not how Jack Cashman remembers it.

The original law went into effect in early 2002, the last year of former Gov. Angus King’s administration. It was after the original Great Northern Paper spun off of its hydroelectric facilities to Brascan. Before that, the paper company was vertically integrated, owning the timberland, the hydroelectric dams and the paper mills. When the company spun off the dams, legislators wanted to ensure the mill would still have access to low-cost power generated by the dams. They did not, however, want the owner of the mills to be able to buy that low-cost power by cutting production and selling it for a profit in such a way that selling power became more lucrative than making paper.

It wasn’t until early 2003, as Gov. John Baldacci was entering office, that Great Northern Paper closed the mills and filed for bankruptcy, according to Cashman, who helped broker the deal that eventually led to Brascan purchasing the paper mills out of bankruptcy in April 2003. Cashman would later become Baldacci’s commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.

In the end, the intent of the legislators who passed the original 2002 law and that of the current legislators who want to change the law are the same: keep the paper mill in East Millinocket viable and preserve valuable jobs in the area.

Whit Richardson

Whit Richardson is Business Editor at the Bangor Daily News. He blogs about Maine business, entrepreneurs and the economy.