How did it come to this? It appears the chief culprits are the declining demand for paper in the digital age and foreign competition. In a statement, Verso’s CEO noted that the mill had become less profitable in recent years. What officials can’t claim — at least not if they are being honest — is that state and local elected officials were not sympathetic to their needs. As mandated by state law, utility customers have for many years essentially been subsidizing the mill by allowing “black liquor,” a sludge of pulp and chemicals produced by the milling process, to be classified as a source of renewable energy. Burning black liquor was treated as if it were environmentally advantageous when, of course, it was not. Even as state lawmakers ratcheted up the the renewable portfolio standard for electrical power — approving a 50 percent renewable goal during the recent General Assembly session — they left the black liquor loophole intact, fearful that to remove the subsidy would lead to this very outcome.