AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate dismissed concerns of a conflict of interest and confirmed Darryl Brown on Tuesday as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

The Senate voted 29-6 to reject a motion to override Brown’s appointment.

Brown, 66, who has spent his career working for developers, will be the chief enforcer of Maine’s environmental laws. Gov. Paul LePage, who nominated Brown, swore him into office shortly after the Senate vote.

Six Democrats opposed the appointment, arguing that it would put the DEP under a “cloud of suspicion” because some decisions could affect Brown’s consulting company and clients, who include the developers of a gambling casino in Oxford.

But Brown’s supporters said he is qualified for the job and they are satisfied with his plan to give up day-to-day oversight of his company until it can be sold. Brown also said he will recuse himself from any permit applications that his company submits during that time.

Since the early 1970s, Brown has been the sole stockholder of Main-Land Development Consultants in Livermore Falls. The firm, which has 11 employees, offers site evaluation services for developers and does land use planning, such as laying out subdivisions.

Eight Senate Democrats voted in support of Brown’s appointment, disappointing some Democrats who had expected a bigger challenge to the nomination.

But Brown, of Livermore Falls, proved to be an effective lobbyist on his own behalf.

Before the vote, he met privately with numerous lawmakers. Legislators said he emphasized his ability to listen to other points of view before making decisions, and his commitment to enforcing environmental laws.

After the Senate vote, he said he was pleased that he received bipartisan support.

“That’s critical for me,” he said.

Opposition to Brown’s nomination was led by Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, Sen. Philip Bartlett, D-Gorham, and Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond.

Goodall said he would have supported Brown if he had put control of the company into a blind trust.

Bartlett said Brown’s pledge to recuse himself from any regulatory matter affecting his company does not address the appearance of a conflict of interest, because Brown will supervise DEP employees who will make decisions.

“I cannot go out on a limb and support someone to regulate themselves,” he said.

Alfond said Brown’s appointment puts DEP employees in a “precarious situation” because they will have the choice of enforcing regulations or “enhancing their boss’s bottom line.”

“Today, I am sad to see there is a black cloud forming over the Department of Environmental Protection,” Alfond said.

Brown’s supporters described him as a man of integrity who has taken every reasonable step possible to distance himself from the company until it can be sold, including resigning as president and turning over the company’s leadership to a board of directors.

The fact that Brown has had extensive dealings with the DEP is a great opportunity for those who want to see a “change of direction” in the state’s regulatory procedures while still protecting the environment, said Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro.

LePage has made regulatory reform the centerpiece of his administration. Brown has said the state’s regulators should be more business-friendly, and that the DEP has an “attitude problem” that he plans to fix.

Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, said he has great expectations for Brown, and that Brown is making a financial sacrifice by leaving his company and working for the state.

His salary, as set by LePage, will be about $102,000 a year.

The state’s salary range for the job is $71,000 to $103,000, which Brown had said in earlier interviews would be a big pay cut.

Sen. Dick Woodbury, an independent from Yarmouth, said the department needs an effective manager and an inspirational leader who can redefine its culture while protecting the integrity of Maine’s natural environment.

He said Brown impressed him during his meeting.

“I found him thoughtful and perceptive and honest and gracious and open-minded,” he said.

 

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