In another political environment, the appointment of David Littell to the Maine Public Utilities Commission would draw little attention.

Littell is a lawyer who represented private-sector clients in the environmental law arena for a decade before becoming a regulator himself, first as deputy commissioner and then commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

At the much-maligned agency, during a period of cutbacks forced by the economy, Littell has made protecting Maine’s valuable natural resources a priority while streamlining the permitting process to give developers timely responses to their proposals.

His mix of private and public sector experience and understanding of complex agencies appear to make him a perfect addition to the PUC, which oversees electric, gas, water, telecommunications and other utilities and sets their rates. But since this is a political season, Littell’s appointment is expected to run into opposition when it goes before the Legislature’s Utilities Committee on Thursday.

One line of attack comes from anti-wind activists, who view any move made by the Baldacci administration in the energy field with suspicion.

Another comes from Republican members of the committee who argue that Littell lacks the experience to serve on the commission.

Both are unfounded. Wind power generation remains a controversial issue in Maine, especially when it comes to decisions about where turbines are sited. But Littell’s strong record as an environmental watchdog and his knowledge of alternative energy policy (as chairman of the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative board) do not put him in one camp or the other.

And Littell has more direct experience navigating a complex regulatory environment than many who have served on the commission, including the other two current members – a former judge and a former legislator. Littell can be expected to critically read and evaluate analysis of PUC staff on specific utility issues, even if he is not now an expert himself.

Gov. Baldacci has made a solid choice to fill this vacancy at a time when energy policy will play a crucial role in Maine’s economic future. It would be unfortunate if the politics of the moment interfered with this important appointment.