May 27, 2018
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Investigation into Department of Environmental Protection commissioner delayed at request of lawmaker who proposed it

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Patricia Aho
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — A decision about whether to launch an investigation into the Department of Environmental Protection over allegations that Commissioner Patricia Aho is pandering to her former private-sector clients was delayed Thursday morning at the request of Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville.

Johnson, who on July 1 called for an Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability investigation of the DEP, said he wanted more time to consider the issue before moving forward, according to Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, who chairs the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee, which would have to approve the probe. There was no indication of a timeline for a final decision on whether the oversight committee, made up of six Democrats and six Republicans, would authorize a probe.

Johnson requested the investigation after articles were published by the Portland Press Herald-Maine Sunday Telegram alleging that Aho guided the DEP in ways that benefited her former clients.

“Given the seriousness of these accusations, I think this investigation is well within the bounds of OPEGA’s authority, and I would further recommend that this investigation be expedited,” wrote Johnson in a July 1 letter to Beth Ashcroft, director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. “In regards to any evidence of laws broken, obviously the attorney general’s office would need to be involved.”

Johnson said Thursday after the meeting that he delayed his request so he could be more specific about what should be investigated.

“My letter of inquiry was a little too broad in order to do a proper investigation,” he said. “We need to formulate more specific questions. … My original request was not well enough formulated for OPEGA’s work.”

Johnson said he didn’t have a timeline to re-submit his request but said he will confer with other lawmakers to determine the investigation’s parameters.

The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability is an investigative body administered by the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee.

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