AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage on Friday took the first step in fulfilling his vow to embed business interests with the state's regulatory agencies by nominating Livermore Falls resident Darryl Brown as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.
Brown, 66, is the founder and president of Main-Land Development Consultants Inc., an engineering firm that helps business clients with state and local permitting and environmental surveying.
Brown's company has represented clients in several major projects, including the 10-year planned expansion at the Saddleback ski area and the voter-approved proposal for the Oxford County casino.
Brown said that he would leave his company, which he started in 1972, to avoid any conflict of interest with the commissioner post. The department oversees site permitting for development projects like the ones with which Brown's company has been involved.
Brown said his attorney was crafting an exit strategy so that he would have "no association" with his company.
Like other commissioner nominations, Brown will have to be confirmed by the Legislature.
It remains to be seen whether Democrats will fight Brown's appointment in light of his business interests and relationship to the development community.
On Friday, some Democrats said that although Brown was qualified for the job, they worried that his post would be akin to the fox guarding the henhouse.
"This will be the case of the regulated becoming the regulator," said Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Old Town, the ranking minority member of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. "But that's consistent with Gov. LePage's philosophy."
LePage said Friday that Maine's DEP was unfriendly to business interests, and in some cases deliberately slowed down the permitting process.
Asked why the DEP would willingly discourage business development, LePage said the department was "anti-business" and adversarial to the private sector.
"I think those who work at DEP would take serious umbrage to that," said Duchesne, adding that LePage and Republican claims about lengthy permitting periods were overstated.
Brown echoed LePage's remarks, saying he wanted to change the culture within the department.
"We need to be a friendly face to the businesses that want to expand or come to Maine," he said, "and recognize that 95 percent of the people (who seek permitting) really want to do the right thing. Let's not let regulation get in the way of that."
Brown acknowledged that local resistance was responsible for delaying some proposals. He said he wanted to push some of the regulatory oversight at the state level back to communities.
"One of my priorities is to shift a lot of the process back to the communities because that's where it really belongs," he said. "I think we can do that. Sure, there are always going to be people who favor or oppose specific projects, and that's the way it should be."
Brown spoke in broad terms about his personal frustration with the state's regulatory environment, but just last year he was instrumental in organizing broad opposition to a bill updating the state's site laws to push large-scale development into communities' designated growth areas.
Brown formed a significant coalition to fight the bill, including the Maine Municipal Association, the Maine Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Association of Realtors, which characterized the measure as weakening the state's business climate and a property seizure by the state.
Despite that opposition, the bill passed the Legislature without a roll call vote in either chamber. It was enacted by Gov. John Baldacci last year.
In December, Brown spoke at a Red Tape Workshop in Farmington, voicing concerns about the amount of time taken by the DEP to process applications. And he compared the 2 inches of regulatory paperwork required for a project 30 years ago with the 10 inches of paperwork needed now. The workshop was in conjunction with LePage's Red Tape Removal Audit.
Born the youngest of 16 children, Brown grew up in Richmond. He graduated from the University of Maine in 1966 with a soil science degree and later earned his graduate degree in agronomy.
Prior to starting Main-Land Development Consultants, he was the assistant principal at Livermore Falls High School.
He also served four terms in the state House of Representatives between 1978 and 1986. He sat on several committees, including Energy and Natural Resources and Public Utilities.
LePage on Friday also nominated Norman Olsen, a former commercial fisherman and federal fisheries regulator, to head the Department of Marine Resources. Philip Congdon, an engineer who holds more than a dozen U.S. patents and has extensive research and development background in business, was nominated to serve as commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Those nominations bring the total number of LePage's announced cabinet members to seven. The governor needs nine more to fill the cabinet.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.