Maine AG says DEP commissioner appears ‘unqualified’ to serve

Posted April 27, 2011, at 10:22 a.m.
Last modified April 27, 2011, at 1:57 p.m.

Maine’s top lawyer has told the LePage administration’s top environmental official that unless he can produce documents proving otherwise, he appears unqualified to serve as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection due to a conflict of interest.

In a letter sent Tuesday to DEP Commissioner Darryl Brown, Attorney General Bill Schneider said Maine statutes would not allow him to recuse himself or delegate matters to others if he had a conflict of interest due to a consulting firm he owns that has extensive dealings with the department.

Maine law clearly states that, once legal income thresholds are reached, a person “may not serve as commissioner.” The firm Brown founded, Main-Land Development Consultants, often assists developers that need permits from the EPA and the DEP.

Schneider wrote that while the federal Clean Water Act would appear to allow Brown to recuse himself or delegate work to others, the same option does not exist under Maine law when it comes to the DEP.

“Therefore, if in fact such a conflict exists, it would undermine your legal authority on any matter coming before you as commissioner,” Schneider wrote. “A recusal and delegation arrangement that attempted to resolve such a conflict would leave you with no retained decision-making authority on your own, which is a result that makes no sense and disregards the apparent purpose of the statute. Therefore, if a conflict were to exist, we are not aware of any mechanism that would allow you to continue to serve as commissioner.”

Although potential conflicts of interest were raised repeatedly during Brown’s confirmation hearings, the issue became larger last month when the Androscoggin River Alliance petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate a potential conflict.

“Under these circumstances, you have two options: produce the necessary documentation showing the absence of a conflict, or otherwise take action to resolve this matter,” Schneider wrote. “In the absence of new information, it appears you are unqualified to serve as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection under Maine law.”

Brown could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning. Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said Wednesday morning that Brown was still on the job but declined to comment further. The administration will respond to the attorney general’s letter Wednesday and is expected to announce other changes within the administration.

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