Potential conflicts suspend BEP actions

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AUGUSTA — The Board of Environmental Protection has suspended proceedings until potential conflicts of interest for some members are resolved.

When  Darryl Brown stepped down as commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in April, Gov. Paul LePage sent letters to members of the Board of Environmental Protection requesting financial documentation related to their service.

Since then, “more than one” board member was believed to have potential conflicts of interest, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said. She declined to identify the board members or to say exactly how many may have conflicts.

“A number of board members’ eligibility has been called into question due to constraints of Maine law as it’s written,” Bennett said Tuesday. She said LePage’s proposed bill, LD 1575, would resolve the issue by bringing Maine’s conflict-of-interest measures in line with federal guidelines.

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The BEP is a citizen board that rules on licensing and permitting for development projects. It functions separately from DEP authority.

Until the issue is resolved, BEP Chairwoman Susan Lessard has suspended official actions by the board, said Cynthia Bertocci, executive analyst for the BEP.

Lessard, who is the town manager of Hampden, is one member whose job could potentially trigger the Clean Water Act conflict provision.

According to Maine Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Brenda Kielty, the office is providing guidance to board members “as to their obligations under the conflict statute in light of their personal financial circumstances.”

Bertocci and other board staff are working as usual dealing with matters for the board to review, she said. However, the suspension of activities has led to postponing some activities, including a public hearing set for Thursday’s meeting on noise levels for wind turbines.

The hearing was the result of a petition by the Citizens Task Force on Wind Power, proposing an amendment to Maine’s noise rules in the state’s Site Location Law. The amendment would have the DEP apply different standards to wind turbine noise than to other industrial noise.

Bertocci said a new date for that hearing had not been scheduled.

In LePage’s letter to board members in April, he requested disclosures on members’ sources of income dating back to January 2009, including contact information, tax returns and any ownership positions in corporations.

The Clean Water Act provision on conflict of interest prohibits anyone from holding a position of issuing permits if, in the past two years, they have received more than 10 percent of gross personal income from a holder of a permit under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. For people age 60 and older, the number increases to 50 percent if that income comes from a pension.

“Any position with a company receiving a permit will disqualify you regardless of your involvement or non-involvement with permitting issues,” the letter read, noting that while there is some flexibility in federal law allowing recusal from decisions, “the Attorney General has recently noted that Maine law is stringent and unyielding.”

Michael Cianchette, assistant counsel to Gov. LePage, said LD 1575 would allow BEP members to recuse themselves from decisions, which Maine law doesn’t allow.

Bertocci said she expected the BEP to be able to meet again on June 16.

treaves@sunjournal.com

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