DEP head nominated to PUC, energy exec to UMS trustees

Posted Aug. 02, 2010, at 9:51 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci has nominated two veteran policymakers in the areas of energy and the environment to serve in prominent positions with the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the University of Maine System.

David Littell, commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, was nominated Monday to serve on the three-member PUC, which regulates electric, gas, water and telecommunications utilities.

Baldacci also nominated a former PUC chairman, Kurt Adams, to serve on the University of Maine System board of trustees. Adams left his position at the PUC in 2008 to take an executive position at First Wind, New England’s largest developer of wind power projects.

Legislative committees will hold public hearings on the nominations in the coming weeks before a Senate confirmation session scheduled for Aug. 25.

Littell has served as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection since January 2006 and previously held the position of deputy commissioner. A graduate of Harvard University Law School and former U.S. Navy Reserve officer, Littell practiced environmental law at the firm Pierce Atwood for more than a dec-ade before joining the DEP.

In a statement announcing the nomination, Baldacci praised Littell for his ability to “fairly navigate complex regulatory and environmental issues” and for making the DEP “more business-friendly without compromising Maine’s environment.

Littell said Monday evening that, as commissioner, he has worked with the PUC on energy issues as well as with the commission and utility regulators in other states while developing and implementing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Serving on the PUC would allow him to continue working directly on those issues.

Additionally, Littell pointed out that he handled telecommunications issues while working in private practice, although he never appeared before the PUC.

As DEP commissioner, Littell helped shepherd through the Legislature Maine’s involvement in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation’s first cap-and-trade system aimed at reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. Littell now serves as chairman of the 10-state initiative.

Maine also has led the nation in enacting regulations to remove lead and other toxic substances from consumer products and, during Littell’s tenure, has been heavily involved in national efforts for tougher air quality standards.

But there also have been controversies on issues ranging from the disposal of construction and demolition debris to potential health impacts of smoky outdoor wood boilers.

In one high-profile scrap, the Legislature passed a bill in 2006 intended to protect migratory shorebird habitat. But lawmakers substantially rewrote the law a year later in the wake of opposition from Down East property owners who viewed it as overly restrictive.

More recently, the DEP has found itself at the center of the fight over the siting of industrial wind farms.

A date had not been announced for the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee public hearing on Littell’s nomination.

For the University of Maine System board of trustees, Baldacci nominated Adams as well as recommended Marjorie Medd of Norway for reappointment to the board.

Adams, a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law, served as Baldacci’s chief legal counsel from 2003 to 2005 before being appointed to the PUC. Before that, as an attorney in private practice, Adams represented both power producers and lenders on energy project financing. He now oversees First Wind’s project de-velopment nationwide.

David Farmer, spokesman for Baldacci, said Adams’ experience in the energy industry “was part of the equation but it wasn’t the only factor” in his nomination to the board. The University of Maine has sizable research programs into development of the next generation of wind turbines and other renewable energy technologies.

Farmer said the governor believes Adams will bring valuable talents and insights to the board.

“The board of trustees brings together people with broad backgrounds,” Farmer said. “It is not just people with experience in education policy.”

Adams has, himself, been at the center of a controversy in recent months focused on his final months of service on the PUC before joining First Wind. Some critics have suggested that Adams had a conflict of interest and may have received a type of stock option from First Wind before leaving the commission.

The company has since blamed the confusion on when Adams received the compensation on a clerical error, and the Maine Attorney General’s Office found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, an Orono Democrat who serves on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, praised Medd’s service on the board and said she believes Adams is a strong candidate.

Schneider said she believes the board needs free thinkers who can help figure out ways to tackle the financial and economic challenges facing both the university and the state as a whole.

“These people are very thoughtful and intelligent,” Schneider said. “At the same time, I am keeping a very open mind and I want to hear what people have to say at the public hearing.”

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