Tuesday, July 30, 2013

At Maine’s DEP, it’s the fox guarding the henhouse

What happens when you put an industry lobbyist in charge of environmental protection? Just take a look at what’s going on in Maine. According to an article in today’s Portland Press-Herald, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection wants to weaken the state’s clean-air regulations, and they don’t want anyone to know about it.
No public hearings have been scheduled, and a notice of a public comment period was buried in an obscure part of the agency’s website.
At first glance it might seem surprising that an agency charged with protecting the environment would actually work against it. It only makes sense when you see the cast of characters involved.
First, there’s Gov. Paul LePage, perhaps not the brightest bulb on the tree. Elected in 2010, he immediately released a list of environmental regulations he wanted to eliminate or weaken. Much like former Pres. G.W. Bush, he wanted to turn back the environmental clock back a decade or more. LePage also supported opening up 10 million acres of Maine wilderness for development.
To help him in his quest, he appointed Deborah Aho, an industry lobbyist, as his DEP commissioner. She had previously represented chemical, drug, oil, and automobile companies. Apparently she continued working on their behalf as commissioner, failing to enforce existing regulations and making decisions that would  benefit her former clients.
So much so, that a petition was sent to the legislature calling for an investigation into her apparently unethical activities. A bill was filed to look into the allegations, but within days the legislator who had filed it, withdrew it, saying it needed revisions. It hasn’t been refiled since.

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