AUGUSTA — Attorney General William Schneider said Wednesday that his office won't rule until May 1 on whether Darryl Brown, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, has a conflict of interest under state law.
The May 1 date corresponds with the deadline the AG's office has to respond to an inquiry by the federal Environmental Protection Agency over whether Brown's involvement with a major development firm violates a provision of the Clean Water Act.
Schneider, responding to a request from Democratic leaders in the House, wrote Wednesday that it would be inappropriate to issue an opinion until the office officially responds to the EPA request.
Democrats asked for Schneider's ruling in March, arguing that lingering questions about Brown's involvement with Main-Land Development of Livermore Falls could cloud his work at the DEP.
Main-Land Development is the lead developer of the Oxford Casino as well as several other recent projects that have sought permits with the DEP.
Brown was president of the company until Jan. 25. His role with Main-Land has also prompted conflict-of-interest claims from environmental groups.
Last month, the Androscoggin River Alliance asked the EPA to determine whether Brown's DEP appointment was a violation of the Clean Water Act. The group argued that Main-Land had handled permitting applications for the $165 million Oxford casino project and several other DEP permitting applications, thus triggering the conflict provision in the Clean Water Act.
According to statute, a DEP commissioner can't serve if at least 10 percent of his income was derived from clients who receive or apply for permits under the Clean Water Act two years before his appointment.
Last month, the EPA sent a letter to Brown's office requesting financial information from Main-Land to see whether Main-Land Development makes a significant amount of its money from permit holders and applicants.
Brown has until April 15 to submit the paperwork.
Officials for Gov. Paul LePage have stated that they are confident Brown isn't violating conflict provisions.
The conflict issue has dogged Brown since LePage tapped him to head the DEP earlier this year. He sought to defuse the issue by severing ties with the company he started in 1974. He also said he's trying to sell Main-Land.