By Carol McCracken (Post # 694)
After 4 l/2 hours of testimony, discussion and questions before the State’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, the 13 member Committee voted almost along party lines, when it approved Darryl Brown’s nomination to be the next Commissioner of the State’s DEP, in Augusta. Four Democrats on the Committee voted against his confirmation while the eight Republicans voted for the appointment. Rep. Robert Dushane, a Democrat, voted with the Republicans. The vote was 9 – 4 in favor of his confirmation.
Supporter after supporter praised Brown’s integrity, work ethic and small business ownership as qualifications for the position; there were real estate brokers, a lobbyist for Cianbro, attorney Severin M. Beliveau, best friends, Dana Connor and more. But not one of them offered a record of commitment to the DEP’s mission – to protect the environment. That could be because Brown received a Zero rating from the environmental community based on his voting record as a former legislature. Brown is a licensed soil scientist who owns a small business – Main-Land Development Consultants, Inc, Livermore Falls, which he started in 1971. It’s an engineering, surveying and land planning company that is the lead developer of the recently approved $165 million casino resort in Oxford County, according to Maine-Biz. The casino is also in one of the Districts of one of the Representatives on the committee. Brown has represented many clients before the DEP and insisted there would be “no conflicts of interest”, although Rep. Seth A. Goodall (D), said: “The DEP will be under scrutiny. We don’t want a cloud over this Department for the appearance of conflicts of interest.” Goodall said if a blind trust had been established, he would have voted in favor of Brown’s confirmation.
Countering the LePage administration’s position that the DEP is not “business-friendly,” Brown admitted, upon repeated questioning by Rep. Denise Harlow, Portland, (D), that although he’d represented many clients before the DEP, he’d never once been denied his client’s application. “I’m very careful about what clients I bring to the DEP,” he explained to Rep. Harlow. Regarding the Governor’s recent bombshell about his agenda for the environment, Brown said: I agree with “most of what the Governor has said. I endorse it. We will undertake a comprehensive review of all the rules to see if there is any duplicity and in concert with the Governor’s wishes.”
Brown testified that he’d cut the DEP permitting time in half. Pete Didisheim, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine said: “Over the past eight years, the DEP has permitted more than $.2 billion in capital investments in Maine – more than during any other comparable period. And the average permitting time was 44 days. The Department is processing more than 4,000 permits annually, even as its budget has declined by 12% since 2002 and its authorized headcount has dropped nearly 20% — from 500 to 410 – since FY 1995.” Brown stated that if the DEP staff is overworked, it could outsource its workload. Didisheim went on to say: “If we wreck our environment, we will wreck our economic future. It does not make sense that Maine would have the same environmental standards as New Jersey, Virginia, or Texas unless we want the pollution, sprawl, and degraded habitat of those states. That would be the end of the Maine brand.”
Becky Bartovics, president of the Sierra Club testified: “We’ve heard about what a fine, upstanding and humorous man, he is, but no one has provided evidence of his commitment to protect Maine’s environment. Mr. Brown has no experience in enforcement.” She went on to say: “We have been unable to uncover any evidence that Mr. Brown has demonstrated a commitment to the protection of Maine’s environment. We do not belielve that his vocation as a major developer qualifies him to carry out the mission of the DEP to preserve, improve and prevent the diminution of the natural resources of Maine. As well, we seriously question whether Mr. Brown has sufficient experience to effectively handle a large state agency that has major responsibilities.”
When MHN.com asked Dana Connor, president of the Maine Chamber of Commerce and past Commissioner of the MDOT, if deregulation would lead to the return of legendary environmental and worker abusers such as Jack DeCoster, egg king, Connor responded: “I can’t speak about him personally, but he did make Maine King of Eggs.”
Rep. Jane Welsh, (D), said: “We need to keep improving the environment. We can’t maintain the status quo. We need to go forward.”