BANGOR –– Independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler on Tuesday outlined his vision for Maine’s environment, a vision that includes modernizing the state Department of Environmental Protection, reducing carbon emissions from vehicles and developing more renewable-energy sources.

When asked what he sees as the DEP’s biggest problem today, Cutler didn’t hesitate.

“The commissioner,” he said, referring to Patricia Aho, a lawyer and former lobbyist who has led the department under Gov. Paul LePage. “The notion that you would appoint a lobbyist to oversee such a highly regulated industry … it’s just unbelievable.”

Cutler stated his environmental goals at Gomez Park in Bangor, overlooking the Kenduskeag Stream. He said his philosophy on the environment is that Maine can protect its natural beauty without sacrificing jobs or economic development.

“Our state has boundless opportunity – but only if we protect its natural beauty, minimize environmental threats to the health of our citizens, and build our renewable-energy generation portfolio,” Cutler said.

Cutler, as he often does on the campaign trail, touted his role in helping the late Edmund Muskie, a U.S. senator from Maine, shepherd the Clean Water and Clean Air acts into law. Cutler was a staff member for the senator in the early 1970s when the laws were created.

Cutler also highlighted the connection between his environmental and energy priorities. He said Maine’s energy portfolio is fine for now, but not for the future because it relies too much on fossil fuels. He said wind, solar and geothermal need to be more in the mix.

But he also cautioned against too much regulation.

“As Maine people and businesses invest in new technologies that will save energy, reduce emissions and create jobs, the last thing we should do is put unnecessary roadblocks in their way,” he said.

Among the other initiatives outlined Tuesday was creation of a Maine Energy Finance Authority that would provide capital for energy projects. He also pledged support for the Kids Safe Product Act, which helps get harmful chemicals out of everyday products, and said he supports mining in Maine but only from companies that make a long-term, enforceable commitment to protecting communities and resources.

But the biggest priority, Cutler said, would be to reform the Department of Environmental Protection, an agency of state government he said has lost integrity during the LePage administration. Aho, the commissioner, has taken the brunt of criticism for promoting policies that directly benefited former lobbying clients at Pierce Atwood, the firm where she practiced law.

After Cutler made his announcement, his Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, issued a statement echoing Cutler’s criticism of LePage’s environmental record. Michaud’s statement noted that the DEP on Tuesday withdrew a proposed rule that would have added formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer, to the Kids Safe Product Act. The act requires manufacturers to disclose the presence of certain “priority chemicals” in children’s products. DEP’s formaldehyde decision was criticized by environmental groups and many Democrats.

The DEP indicated it was postponing action on the formaldehyde rule while the Environmental Protection Agency reviews scientific assessments of the chemical, for a report scheduled to be released in August.

“Since taking office, Gov. LePage has done everything he could to undermine years of sound, science-based environmental policies. Just today, his administration bowed to the chemical industry over formaldehyde in children’s products. That’s why Maine needs a governor like Congressman Michaud who not only has a detailed environmental and energy plan, but also is the only candidate in the race with the necessary experience and proven track record of bringing people together from all parties and backgrounds to implement common-sense policies that protect our environment and invest in clean, renewable energy.”

Brent Littlefield, LePage’s senior campaign adviser, said Michaud and Cutler have shown a trend of attacking the governor’s female leaders, including Aho and Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

Littlefield also said LePage has proven that he is willing to hold companies accountable on environmental issues.

“While Michael Michaud and Eliot Cutler are offering rhetoric, LePage is taking action,” he said.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or:

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Twitter: @PPHEricRussell