Portland lawyer David Littel assumes the leadership of the Department of Environmental Protection at a troubled time in the agency’s history.
But Littel, the former deputy commissioner, appears to have all the tools needed to get the DEP back on course.
Environmental groups say Littel knows the issues, understands regulations and the context in which these often controversial decisions are made.
Littel is also credited with being a straight shooter.
In some ways, Littel job will be easier than whoever takes the reins at the state Department of Health and Human Services. There, the loss of public confidence was underlain by serious questions about the competence of the agency and its staff.
Not so with the DEP, which has more than its fair share of solid, dedicated staff who know their job and do it well – when politics don’t interfere.
Littel, to his credit, has not been shy about righting wrongs that cropped up on his predecessor’s watch.
For example, he yanked a controversial pollution permit awarded to International Paper once he realized that the plant’s discharges of phosphorus and other pollutants to the Androscoggin River were far lower than what company officials claimed. That meant the company’s demand for a 10-year compliance deadline was completely unnecessary.
While Maine has in some areas been a national leader on environmental issues, there is still much to be done to protect its air and water.
Littel will be well served to make sure DEP staffers focus like a laser beam on their core mission of protecting the environment.
If he can do that and ward off the inevitable attacks from polluters, his agency’s tarnished reputation will restore itself.