Down East 2013 ©
Darryl Brown got grilled in Augusta Tuesday afternoon, and by my estimate, he is now well done. Or should I say he’s done well?
Brown, Governor Paul LePage’s nominee for Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, was not well served by the governor’s release – just one day before Brown’s hearing - of a lengthy list of regulatory reforms focused on the DEP and other natural resource agencies. That list alarmed environmentalists and provided a rich area of exploration for Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee, the committee that held a public hearing on Brown’s nomination today, and environmental groups in their testimony at the hearing.
Dan Billings, the governor’s legal counsel, took the unusual step of testifying at the start of the lengthy hearing about the steps Brown has taken to eliminate conflicts of interest between his business, an environmental consulting business focused on site preparation, and his DEP position, should he be confirmed. Brown also spent some time explaining the steps he will take to divorce himself from his business and recuse himself on any projects before the DEP that include work by his business.
Many questions were posed by Natural Resource Committee members about the governor’s list of reforms. Brown said he had no input into the proposal, supported much of it, and opposed some of it.
Although the committee asked a lot of questions over a two-hour period, and Brown was limited in his responses, particularly on the governor’s reforms, I didn’t hear anything that would prevent Brown from being confirmed.
Despite concerns about Brown’s – and the governor’s – views on environmental issues and intentions for the DEP, the only issue that offered a real problem for the nominee is the conflict of interest issue.
There was a lot of testimony on the issue, and committee members explored the matter a great deal, including an examination of the steps Brown plans to take to reduce possible conflicts between his business and his position at DEP.
No one asked what I thought would be a good question: How is it that the governor’s top environmental official had no input or knowledge about a major environmental process that the governor trotted out just the previous day?
There was plenty of testimony on Brown’s behalf, mostly from the business community but also from friends, neighbors, and legislators.
Many testified to Brown’s integrity, honesty, commitment to his community, public service, family values, and more. Others offered positive testimony on his professional capabilities and decades of work in site development.
Despite the ire of environmental groups over the governor’s environmental reform proposals, only one group opposed Brown’s nomination: the Sierra Club. That group’s spokesman really roasted Brown, just in case the grilling he’d already received by committee members left some part of his anatomy unscorched.
Most of the environmental groups in attendance spoke in the category “neither for nor against,” a neutral stance which allows testimony that may be of interest but is not intended to support or oppose the nomination.
Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council said his group appreciated Brown’s sense of humor and commitment to good science but reported, “We are skeptical about Mr. Brown’s goal of cutting DEP permitting time in half. We’re not convinced that this goal is possible with the staff and resources available, or in a fashion that ensures protection of clean air, clean water, and our natural environment.
Didisheim said, “We think it’s a good thing (Brown) said that he had not seen the (governor’s reform proposal) and was not aware of its contents. If he had been involved, we would almost certainly have been here opposing his nomination.”
Emily Figdor of Environment Maine testified, “Mr. Brown has no demonstrated commitment to protecting the environment and preserving Maine’s natural heritage.” She also raised the conflict of interest issue.
Senate Committee Chair Tom Saviello questioned whether Ms. Figdor was properly testifying in the neutral category, given her testimony.
While Darryl Brown was the subject of today’s hearing, the elephant in the room was the governor’s environmental reform proposals. They stole the show and hold the promise of continuing to be a hotly debated topic in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, Brown will likely be confirmed by the Maine Senate, perhaps with more negative votes than are normal. And then perhaps he’ll get his own whack at those proposed reforms.