AUGUSTA, Maine — The Trump administration’s tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber have divided the nation’s most heavily forested state, where the governor says high prices are gouging the American people while others say the tariffs have steadied a struggling industry.
Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, claims the public is “held hostage” as lumber companies see record profits thanks to U.S. tariffs in addition to demand from post-hurricane rebuilding efforts elsewhere in the country. He also says Maine is now losing revenues because it can’t find buyers for its own wood.
“It’s hurting more than it’s helping because the American people have to pay a higher price for their lumber,” LePage told lawmakers.
But former state economist and former Bureau of Public Land director Lloyd Irland said tariffs aren’t the primary reason builders are seeing sharply rising prices for softwood lumber ahead of building season in the Northeast.
And, Irland said, it’s still unclear how it’ll end up shaking out for sellers and buyers of lumber this year.
“Charges of profiteering are unhelpful and irresponsible and I don’t know who is putting that stuff into the governor’s ear,” he said. The lumber market could be adjusting after the housing market crash, when lumber production plunged.
In the United States, every third new house is built with Canadian lumber, according to Irland. Canadian companies, meanwhile, have purchased struggling American lumber mills in recent years.
LePage has traveled to Washington, D.C., with Canadian officials to lobby the Trump administration to exempt New Brunswick and Quebec from tariffs on softwood lumber imposed last year that average 20 percent.
A number of logging groups have long argued the Canadian government subsidizes its mills and allows them to charge a lower price, harming American mills. Maine-owned mills support the tariffs and accused LePage of a “Canada-first” trade policy.
Chris Brochu, whose family owns a pair of Maine mills, said things have become testy to the point where the governor hung up on him when he expressed support for the tariffs.
“We’re a Maine business. We employ a lot of Maine people. We’re not really sure why the governor is lobbying for a Canadian interest,” Brochu said.
Brochu doesn’t see a problem because the price of wood is high, the market is good and Maine sawmills are hiring additional workers.