RICHMOND – Darryl Brown, Gov. Paul LePage’s choice to lead the state Department of Environmental Protection, grew up here on a 150-acre farm — the kind of self-sufficient farm that has virtually vanished from the Maine landscape.

The youngest of 16 children, Brown spent much of his youth outdoors, either working in fields or playing in the woods that the family harvested for firewood.

His home had no plumbing. All the butter his mother churned was sold, and she gave her own family margarine because it was cheaper.

“It’s a lifestyle you don’t see very much any more,” Brown said while eating breakfast at the Railway Cafe on Main Street. “On the other hand, it does a pretty good job shaping someone’s life.”

Brown, now 66, said his hardscrabble childhood on the farm has given him the capacity to work long hours and the desire to conserve natural and fiscal resources.

A soft-spoken and self-effacing man who prides himself on being reasonable, Brown has suddenly been propelled into a partisan fight over the direction of LePage’s environmental policies.

Four of the five Democrats on a key legislative panel voted last week not to endorse his confirmation, and resistance is expected Tuesday when the Senate takes up his nomination.

His supporters say Brown would work to protect Maine’s environment, but would do so in a way that is more predictable and more responsive to businesses.

“Maine is a beautiful and lovely state,” he said. “Our clean environment is what makes us live, work and play here. It is what brings a lot of people here.”

Brown said he sees himself as a conservationist and his critics are mistaken if they believe he won’t protect the integrity of Maine’s environment.

Opponents say they don’t see evidence from the public record to back that up.

LEAGUE DISLIKED VOTING RECORD

A socially and fiscally conservative Republican, Brown served in the House of Representatives from 1978 to 1986. In his last session, he was one of only six of 151 House members to receive a zero ranking from the Maine League of Conservation Voters.

The group says Brown voted the wrong way on bills related to hazardous waste, acid rain, energy standards, freshwater wetlands and chemical insecticides.

The group’s executive director, Maureen Drouin, in a statement called the record “troubling.”

Nobody doubts his technical background, though.

Brown graduated second in his class in 1962 at Richmond High School. His family could not afford to send him to college, but a teacher encouraged him to apply for an Eastern States Governors Scholarship, which was customarily given to one rural student in each New England state.

He won the scholarship — Gov. John Reed handed him the award at a gathering of the six New England governors in Massachusetts. Brown graduated from the University of Maine in 1966 with a soil science degree and later earned his graduate degree in agronomy.

While he was away at college, Brown’s parents sold the farm. As he was the last of their children to leave home, there was no one left to help with the heavy work. Today, the farm is turning back to forest.

He used his education to build a career helping developers build projects, particularly subdivisions and golf courses.

The land-use planning firm he founded in the early 1970s, Main-Land Development Consultants Inc., guides developers through the site approval process with the Department of Environmental Protection and local boards.

His current clients include the owners of the planned gambling casino in Oxford.

Much of the opposition to Brown in the Legislature stems from worries that he is unable to address the appearance of conflict of interest that will arise when his company seeks permits for clients from the department. Brown, the sole owner, said he plans to sell his company, although it may take some time.

If Brown is confirmed, his salary — which would be set by LePage — would range from $71,000 to $103,000. That, he says, would be a big pay cut.

Brown has been one of the Department of Environmental Protection’s most outspoken critics, arguing that its cumbersome procedures lead to unnecessary and costly delays.

At a public forum last month, he called the department “out of control.”

LePage, who has made regulatory reform the centerpiece of his administration, said Brown has the right technical background but also brings a “common sense” approach to regulations.

Brown, in an interview, echoed LePage’s often-expressed sentiment that the state’s regulators should be more business-friendly.

The department has an “attitude problem” that he plans to fix, he said.

“We need to recognize who our customers are. Our customers are the citizens of the state of Maine.”

A SUCCESSFUL BATTLE

Brown’s company has been particularly active in the mountains of western Maine. He has planned most of the subdivisions in the Bethel area, and has been working on the expansion plans for the Saddleback ski area in Rangeley.

Two years ago, Brown took on a public fight when the Department of Environmental Protection proposed changing the state’s site plan law to steer projects closer to existing services and buildings. Brown organized the opposition, arguing that the reforms would hurt rural communities that hunger for new businesses.

He sponsored a series of forums to draw attention to the plans. More than 100 people testified at a public hearing at the State House. The parts of the plan that Brown opposed were later removed.

For his efforts, the Maine Real Estate and Development Association last year gave Brown its annual Public Policy Award.

But Brown’s public criticisms of the department preceded the site-plan battle.

In 2006, at a conference in Bethel about managing growth, Brown said Maine has a harsh regulatory environment, and he pointed to regulations for managing storm water, wetlands, vernal pools and streams.

Ultimately, despite best growth-management efforts, natural resources and the market dictate what development occurs, he said at the forum, according to an account by the Sun Journal of Lewiston.

“The free market system is the final arbiter in land use,” he said.

Brown, who supported Les Otten in the primary, said he met LePage briefly at a fundraiser during the general election.

After LePage’s victory, he decided to apply for the commissioner’s job at the urging of many of his supporters in the site-plan campaign. Brown said he next met LePage during his interview for the job.

As commissioner, Brown said, he plans to completely review all the department’s regulations and rules.

He said he wants to speed things up, reducing the review time for a permit from six months to three months.

He said some of the staff seem to have an “unfriendly” attitude to businesses seeking permits, and he plans to change that attitude.

The department has made great strides cleaning up polluted rivers and preserving sensitive wildlife areas, said Donna Gurley, a former spokesperson for the department who resigned two weeks ago.

But it’s a task, she said, that often creates tension between regulators and developers.

“People don’t like being told what they can and can’t do,” she said.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said Brown appears to have an “attitude problem” of his own.

“He has in many ways demonized the DEP in a way that is very unfair,” she said.

Last week, the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club announced its opposition to Brown’s appointment, saying that the group has yet to uncover any evidence that Brown has demonstrated a commitment to the protection of Maine’s environment.

But Dennis Doyon, who has served on the Bethel Planning Board for 16 years, said he has seen that commitment from Brown firsthand.

He said he’s watched Brown turn down work as a consultant because the landowners refused to listen to his advice about how to reduce storm water runoff or preserve a natural feature.

He said Brown sometimes encouraged subdivision developers to eliminate lots so they would fit better into the landscape.

“He would always take the high road and do what is best for that particular piece of property,” Doyon said. “He is probably one of the staunchest supporters in the state for reasonable development versus capitalizing on the greatest gain on a piece of property.”

Brown lives in Livermore Falls with his wife, Peggy. They have been married 25 years and have four adult children.

Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls, Brown’s next-door neighbor, said Brown is a fastidious workaholic who keeps an immaculate lawn. He said he’s also a fair-minded person who considers other people’s views.

“He will reach out,” he said. “He’s not the my-way-or-the-highway type of guy.”

Brown works unusually long hours, arriving in his office by 6 a.m. and spending many long evenings at planning board meetings, according to his company’s office manager, Angela Pinkham.

She said Brown leads by example and fosters a strong sense of loyalty among his employees. Most of the company’s 11 employees have worked there for 20 to 25 years, she said.

Pinkham said staff members at the DEP should consider themselves lucky.

“We work more as a family team unit than as employees and employers,” she said. “It’s very sad for all of us that he is leaving.”

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at:

[email protected]