AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate brushed aside concerns of a conflict of interest and on Tuesday confirmed the nomination of land-use consulting firm owner Darryl Brown to head the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Only six of the 35 senators voted to override a committee recommendation to confirm Brown, far short of the two-thirds majority needed.
Some Democratic senators said that Brown, Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee for DEP commissioner, should sell his Livermore Falls land-development consulting company or place it in a blind trust in order to remove any appearance of a conflict of interest. No one disputed the qualifications of Brown, a soil scientist who was a legislator from 1978 to 1986.
Arguing that “the regulator can’t be the regulated,” Sen. Philip Bartlett II, D-Gorham, said Brown’s confirmation would mean “a cloud would be cast over the whole DEP.”
Fellow Democratic Sen. Seth Goodall of Richmond said many elected officials, including legislators, find themselves in conflicts of interest from time to time. While part-time elected legislators can recuse themselves from votes that may bring a conflict, Cabinet-level appointees should be held to a higher standard, he said.
Goodall said that if Brown were to put his company in a blind trust or divest himself of ownership, “I would support him.”
Brown has assured lawmakers that a process would be put in place to ensure that he would be involved in no discussions relating to his company’s permits and business before the DEP, and that no permit application involving his company would ever reach his desk.
Republicans also noted that Brown won significant support from nearly two dozen organizations, businesses and individuals during his confirmation hearing.
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said that while state law calls on officials to remove themselves from issues in which they have a direct and substantial interest, it does not require someone in Brown’s position to sell a business he or she owns. Katz said a blind trust might be appropriate for a stock portfolio, “but this is the sale of a business. It’s a lot more complicated.”
“I think all he’s asking is to keep some financial control over his destiny,” Katz said.