Two citizens groups asked the Legislature on Thursday to investigate the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and specifically its commissioner, Patricia Aho.
Maine Conservation Voters and the Maine People’s Alliance said they presented a letter and a petition signed by more than 2,500 Maine residents asking the state to “investigate unethical and improper behavior at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.”
“The Legislature should use every method at its disposal and begin immediately to examine how the mission of the DEP has been undermined to serve corporations at the expense of Maine people,” Maine Conservation Voters Executive Director Maureen Drouin said in a news release.
Jessamine Logan, the DEP’s spokeswoman, responded with a statement on behalf of Aho and the DEP.
“The Department stands by the work of our excellent staff, who are engineers, scientists, data managers and specialists,” the DEP statement said.
“This work includes acting on close to 4,000 permits and license applications each year, responding to nearly 3,000 oil and hazardous materials spills, launching a new lead-safe property search feature on the state’s housing website, training 2,096 contractors in the best practices for erosion control, and undertaking our daily protection of our air, water and land around us.”
Maine Conservation Voters and the Maine People’ s Alliance cited a series of articles by investigative journalist Colin Woodard titled “The Lobbyist in the Henhouse,” which were published in June by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, as the basis for an investigation.
The organizations say the newspaper series revealed that under Aho’s direction, the DEP “has used staff intimidation, lack of enforcement, and delayed implementation of environmental and public health initiatives to benefit multi-million dollar corporations including pharmaceutical, chemical and energy companies. Aho and other members of Governor LePage’s administration have recently worked as lobbyists for these same corporations.”
Drouin said the Legislature could investigate through the Government Oversight Committee and the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. She said the Legislature could also ask the Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether laws were broken.
Reaction among party leaders was mixed Thursday.
“Democrats share the very serious concerns expressed in this petition,” said Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for the Speaker of the House, Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. “We believe the DEP should be protecting the environment and the public health, not the chemical industry’s bottom line.”
House Minority Leader Kenneth W. Fredette, R-Newport, said he wants more specifics.
“I certainly would not be inclined to support an investigation at this point” based on a series of newspaper articles, Fredette said.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at firstname.lastname@example.org