By Pete Didisheim, Advocacy Director
Senator Saviello, Representative Hamper, and members of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. My name is Pete Didisheim. I am the advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate the opportunity to testify “Neither For Nor Against” the nomination of Darryl Brown to be Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP has an incredibly important and challenging job to do. The Department helps protect our clean air and clean water, conserve our natural resources and wildlife habitat, and protect the health of Maine people from hazardous waste and toxic pollutants. These are critical functions to Maine’s economy, prosperity, and our quality of life.
Maine needs a DEP Commissioner who strongly believes in the department’s mission, and who will support the staff who carry out Maine’s important environmental laws. On this point, we are pleased that the nominee has set as one of his top priorities to get to know the staff. In a meeting yesterday, he told us that he recognizes that DEP has “many fine folks.”
We agree. As the leader of Department, he will need to earn the trust and confidence of his staff so that they can continue to do their jobs, with constrained resources.
The DEP has suddenly become the favorite punching bag for those concerned about Maine’s economy, but the beating up on DEP has gotten out of control and is not based on the facts. It is hard not to be enormously impressed with the accomplishments of the DEP personnel, day in and day out, including in the area of permitting.
Over the past eight years, the DEP has permitted more than $5.2 billion in capital investments in Maine – more than during any other comparable period. And the average permitting time was 44 days. The Department is processing more than 4,000 permits annually, even as its budget has declined by 12% since 2002 and its authorized headcount has dropped nearly 20% — from 500 to 410 – since FY 1995.
This is a Department that is being asked to do more work with less personnel, and they are doing a good job overall. Perfect? No. There’s always room for improvement, but the hostility and attack focused by this Administration toward the DEP is not warranted and will not help us achieve the desired goal of striking the right balance between stewardship of our natural resources and economic development.
On this point, we are skeptical about Mr. Brown’s goal of cutting DEP permitting time in half. We’re not convinced that this goal is possible with the staff and resources available, or in a fashion that ensures protection of clean air, clean water, and our natural environment.
In our meeting yesterday with the nominee, we asked him about the Governor’s recently released list of regulatory reforms that would gut many of the State’s environmental laws. He said that he had not seen the document, and was not aware of its contents.
Frankly, we think that’s a good thing. We almost certainly would been here to testify against the nominee if he had helped draft this document – which proposes to weaken or outright eliminate a whole range of important environmental laws that are protecting Maine’s environment and the health of Maine people.
The Governor’s proposal represents a prescription for decline in Maine’s environmental quality. It would weaken or literally rip to shreds more than 20 laws that were developed and passed through the hard work of this Committee, based on sound science and careful input from a broad range of businesses, lawmakers, and Maine people.
We’re talking about laws that are successfully creating recycling jobs, reducing mercury pollution, protecting Maine people from increased air pollution, and preserving the character of our communities. We hope that Darryl Brown will not be party to that agenda.
With his background in soil science, we hope and trust that he’ll bring a science-based approach to the job of Commissioner. We also hope that he will reject the myth that weakening Maine’s environmental laws will somehow strengthen our economy. The opposite is true: if we wreck our environment, we will wreck our economic future. It does not make sense that Maine would have the same environmental standards as New Jersey, Virginia, or Texas unless we want the pollution, sprawl, and degraded habitat of those states. That would be the end of the Maine brand.
If confirmed, we will be committed to work with Commissioner Brown to help ensure that his tenure is successful. But with the Governor’s proposals to weaken our environmental laws fresh on the table, we can only testify today “Neither For Nor Against” the pending nominee. I appreciate this opportunity to testify.