June 18, 2013

Our View: Maine DEP needs an advocate, not a lobbyist

A newspaper investigation shows an agency that puts corporate interests ahead of people.

Corporations can hire lobbyists to fight for them and influence public policy.

click image to enlarge

Under the leadership of Patricia Aho, above, a former lobbyist for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has made decisions that favor Aho’s former clients at the expense of the residents of Maine.

2013 File Photo/Carl D. Walsh

Ordinary people can't. They depend on the government to be their advocate.

When the lobbyist and the government are the same, the ordinary people are the ones who lose out.

That's the case with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, where Patricia Aho, a former lobbyist for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, has been in charge for the last two years.

During a seven-month investigation, reporter Colin Woodard found how Aho did not stop being a corporate advocate when she started working for the people. The special report "The Lobbyist in the Henhouse" shows how the DEP under Aho's direction has cut back on enforcement, dragged its feet on implementation and rolled back initiatives, all to the benefit of Aho's former clients.

Her actions at the DEP are part of Gov. LePage's war on regulation, which the businessman-candidate promised would be his priority if he were elected in 2010.

Elections matter, and it's right to expect that a pro-business governor would make pro-business appointments. What is not acceptable is the manner in which the administration has chosen to go about getting its way.

In addition to proposing changes through the legislative process, like the sweeping regulatory reform package LePage signed in 2011, the administration has used its control of the agency to quietly prevent state workers from doing their jobs.

The winners are the multibillion-dollar corporations that can continue to make bottom-line decisions in the interests of their stockholders. The losers are the people of Maine who rely on clean air and water and safe household products and food supply.

The administration is now engaged in a fight over L.D. 1181, a bill that would require food manufacturers with more than $1 billion in sales to report the use of identified toxic substances in their products. The administration is using legislative tricks, like creating an inflated fiscal impact note, to kill the bill instead of trying to defeat it on its merits. Legislators shouldn't let them get away with it.

These tactics fit a broad pattern of undercover deregulation at an important regulatory agency.

The big corporations don't need another lobbyist. But Maine people do.


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