A Well-Qualified Nominee

Posted Aug. 17, 2010, at 5:41 p.m.

The world is indeed a strange place when an attorney who worked for telecommunications clients, heads the agency that oversees the siting of many utility projects and chairs a regional energy and climate effort is thought to be unqualified for a seat on the Public Utilities Commission, while a close friend of the governor with virtually no utilities experience was easily confirmed to the board just two years ago.

Some lawmakers have begun quietly criticizing David Littell’s nomination to the PUC, saying he is inexperienced. Mr. Littell is the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, an agency that many people find easy to criticize.

While head of the DEP, he has worked to shorten the time spent reviewing development proposals. During his tenure, the agency had processed 5,000 permits per year, up from 3,500 a decade ago. At the same time, the department’s staff has shrunk from 461 to 410. Through May of this year, the DEP has permitted $5.2 billion worth of capital investments since 2003.

Others cite Mr. Littell’s involvement in the development of wind power in Maine as a reason he shouldn’t sit on the PUC. He was a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development, which led to legislation that eased some barriers to wind power projects.

Likewise, some are critical of Mr. Littell’s role with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a consortium of eastern states working to lower energy use and pollution. RGGI has been cited by Sen. Olympia Snowe as a model for national energy and emissions legislation.

Before joining the DEP, Mr. Littell, who was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, represented telecommunications companies and others as a lawyer in private practice.

It is incongruous to criticize Mr. Littell’s high-profile roles as DEP commissioner, chairman of RGGI and a member of the wind task force and, at the same time, to say he lacks experience.

A closer look at recent PUC commissioners shows that he is one of the most qualified nominees. The governor’s last nominee, Jack Cashman, was commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development and a longtime real estate developer. He was unanimously approved for the PUC and has since received good reviews for his work on the board. The other commissioner, Vendean Vafiades, is a former judge and legal counsel for the University of Maine System.

Other recent commissioners have included a deputy attorney general with securities expertise as well as a commissioner of the Michigan lottery and chamber of commerce president.

Mr. Littell’s expertise and demeanor would be a good addition to the PUC, and his nomination should be supported by the Utilities and Energy Committee.

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