AUGUSTA, Maine — Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner David Littell drew a lot questions, but won over GOP lawmakers to get a 12-0 recommendation of the Legislature’s Utilities Committee for confirmation as one of three commissioners of the Public Utilities Commission.
“We wanted to make sure we had a certain level of comfort,” said Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield. “He has been an environmental regulator and the PUC is a financial regulator, and we wanted to be sure there would be a clear break.”
Littell huddled with the GOP members of the committee in the hallway outside the hearing room after he responded to nearly two hours of questions from the committee. He said concerns were expressed by the Republican lawmakers whether he could have a clean break from his current job should he be confirmed as a PUC commissioner.
“I assured them I would follow the statutes that are passed by the Legislature and implement what the PUC is supposed do and not act as an environmental person at the PUC,” he said.
Littell said when he left private practice as an attorney to become the deputy commissioner of the DEP, he had to make a similar change. He thanked the panel for its support and “thoughtful” questions about the myriad issues before the PUC.
“I am pleased that the committee, people on all sides of the aisle, put their confidence in me,” he said. His confirmation to the PUC is all but assured with a two-thirds vote of the state Senate needed to overturn the committee recommendation. The Senate meets next Wednesday.
While the panel was unanimous in its support, members of both parties asked questions on dozens of issues, ranging from wind power development to tidal energy and the ferry service on Casco Bay.
“This committee does its due diligence, and we always ask a lot of questions on issues and of nominees,” said Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, the co-chairman of the panel. “There is no perfect candidate for that position, because you cannot find a person that has all of the disciplines and expertise that is under the statutes at the PUC. He went through a long and grueling hearing and answered a lot of questions, but he has proven that he is knowledgeable on most of the issues.”
Hobbins said going into the hearing, the GOP members of the panel had expressed a lot of concerns about Littell’s minimal background in many of the utilities issues. Hobbins praised their decision to support the nomination.
“They put politics aside and he is now in position of coming into office with the strong support of this committee,” he said.
Littell said he has been “hitting the books,” reading up on issues at the PUC. He joked that it is a good he likes to read a lot, because the materials at the commission on the areas it regulates are extensive.
“I am looking forward to working with the expert economists, engineers, accountants and others at the PUC,” he said.
The only opposition at the hearing was from Jim LaBrecque of Bangor, a mechanical engineer. He said he has no doubt Littell is qualified for the post, but said the PUC needs an engineer instead of another lawyer. Commission Chairman Jack Cashman is a businessman, and Commissioner Vendean Vafiades is a lawyer and for-mer judge.
“There is no one with engineering experience and expertise on the commission, and many of the issues are technical,” LaBrecque said.
Littell said after the hearing that he believes the technical experts are on the commission staff and are available as consultants to the PUC as they consider technical issues. He said the role of the PUC is regulatory.
“It’s an area where true multidisciplinary analysis and the ability to grasp the disciplines and put them together is necessary,” he said.