AUGUSTA — The Androscoggin River Alliance claims the state's new environmental chief may be violating federal law because of a conflict of interest.
The group announced Monday that it has petitioned the federal Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether the recent appointment of Darryl Brown as commissioner for the Department of Environmental Protection violates the conflict provision of the Clean Water Act.
Brown is the founder of Main-Land Development in Livermore Falls, which has appeared before the DEP for permitting on several large development projects. The company is also the lead environmental engineering firm for the planned Oxford County casino.
Brown, recently confirmed by the state Senate and sworn into office by Gov. Paul LePage, has said he's severed ties with his company and that he's trying to sell it.
But Neil Ward, who leads the river alliance, said Brown's appointment appears to violate a federal provision that prevents the head of the DEP from receiving currently, or over the previous two years, more than 10 percent of their annual income from water pollution permit holders or applicants.
Steve Hinchman, the lawyer for the group, said the law was "designed to stop the revolving door between regulated companies and government agencies."
"Even if the commissioner (Brown) put his development company into a blind trust it would not cure the problem," Hinchman said in a news release.
Dan Demeritt, LePage's communications director, said the alliance's complaint was a "stunt."
"Darryl Brown went to great lengths to shield himself from conflict as part of the confirmation process," Demeritt said. "The steps he took and his explanation earned bipartisan support from the Natural Resource Committee and the full Senate. The Androscoggin River Alliance had every opportunity to raise these concerns during the confirmation. They did not appear before the committee."
He added, "The fact that they are raising these concerns just a week after Commissioner Brown has taken office should make it clear to everyone that this is a stunt."
Hinchman said several people attempted to warn LePage's administration that Brown could be violating the Clean Water Act.
"If a mistake has been made, the fault lies with Gov. LePage and his transition team, not the commissioner," Hinchman said. "The federal conflict of interest rule has been on the books since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. Many people tried to tell the governor that this appointment was wrong. We are now asking EPA to determine whether it was also illegal."
Hinchman said that because Brown has handled permitting applications for the $165 million Oxford Casino project and several other DEP permitting applications, that his income is likely well over the 10 percent threshold allowed in the Clean Water Act.
Brown was president of the company until Jan 25.
Brown's potential conflict was a topic of concern for about half dozen Senate Democrats, who voted against his confirmation last week.
Brown could not be reached for comment.
The alliance has spearheaded efforts to improve water quality in the Androscoggin River. It's unclear when the EPA will take up its petition complaint, which the group filed on Monday.