Darryl Brown was a developer for nearly 40 years before he was tapped to become commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

His experience as a regulated businessman made him an attractive choice to be the top environmental regulator for the LePage administration, which has promised to be more business friendly. But the appointment also has raised complaints from environmental groups that say his quick role reversal may not be legal.

Those questions should be answered once and for all, and they should be answered soon. Brown should not have to work with this cloud hanging over his head and over his agency.

At issue is a provision in state law that prohibits anyone who received at least 10 percent of his income over the last two years from clients who receive or apply for permits under the federal Clean Water Act from serving as commissioner. Brown has said that he meets that standard, but the issue has been raised by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has the same rule, and that agency is conducting an informal inquiry to determine whether a full-scale investigation is called for. Democrats in the Legislature don’t want to wait for those results and have requested that Maine Attorney General William Schneider determine Brown’s status under Maine law. Schneider’s office should investigate and put this issue to rest.

This is not a subjective judgment or one that should have to stray into speculative discussion about where Brown’s loyalties lie. It does not have to be a political process.

The standard appears to be clear: The AG’s Office need only look at Brown’s income and determine if more or less than 10 percent of it comes from clients with Clean Water Act permits. Brown says he doesn’t exceed the standard, so he must have the documentation to prove it.

For some reason, the LePage administration has been slow to make this request of Schneider, and that decision has created a distraction. It also creates uncertainty in the permitting process. This issue is not going to go away on its own.

Schneider can put this matter to rest by researching the question and issuing a written opinion. That’s what he should do, for Brown’s sake and the good of the state.

 


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