In this July 8, 2021, file photo, a lobster boat carries a heavy loads of traps as it motors out to sea near Peaks Island in Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.

Gov. Janet Mills’ veto of a bill aiming to jumpstart Maine’s offshore wind industry has pushed her and Democratic lawmakers to try to negotiate a compromise over thorny labor standards.

It has gained national attention in part because the governor’s stance is at odds with President Joe Biden’s general pledge that unions will be at the center of the growing clean-energy sector. If the sides do not make a deal, Maine’s place in the industry could be at risk.

The context: Mills, a Democrat, has been trying to position the state for success in the nascent offshore wind sector going back to 2020, when she unveiled plans to start the nation’s first research platform. There was immediate pushback from the fishing industry, which led her to bar projects in state waters and factored into her 2022 campaign against former Gov. Paul LePage.

Under Biden, the federal government has ramped up its offshore wind efforts, which include a possible array in the Gulf of Maine. Lawmakers have been working this year on legislation that would clear the development of ports and projects and buy a massive amount of power.

That is where the rub is between Mills and leading lawmakers. Democrats commandeered a port development bill backed by the governor to add language requiring project labor agreements, a type of collective bargaining deal between unions and construction companies. That led to a veto threat from the governor, which she made good on last week.

Pathway to a deal: In her initial letter to key lawmakers, Mills said she would veto the bill if they did not remove the labor language, saying it would create “a chilling effect” for Maine contractors who do not use union workers and could lead to out-of-state workers dominating the sector.

Legislative Democrats, including Sen. Chip Curry, D-Belfast, who sponsored the ports measure, challenged Mills in a letter, noting that any contractor can enter such an agreement and floating an amendment that would ensure Maine workers have priority in the eventual agreements that govern port construction.

But that did not look like it would solve things by itself. Lobbyist Tim Walton, who represents Maine construction giant Cianbro, noted the suggested language says companies would have to “make a demonstrated and measurable effort” to hire Maine workers as part of a hierarchy, something he argued may not have teeth in practice.

What’s next: Both Curry and Mills said Friday that negotiations were still happening over the measure. There is incentive to reach a deal, with the senator saying holding it back for a year would be “very problematic” for Maine’s position. But they gave no details on the talks.  

“There are ideas, but I don’t want to get into details right now because it’s an ongoing conversation and discussions back and forth,” he said.

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Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...