AUGUSTA, Maine—Environmental activists are outraged over a state ethics commission’s decision not to investigate allegations that a Wilton lawmaker used his legislative position to ease environmental standards for his paper-company employer.
“They shut the door of the courtroom in our face and said you’re not allowed in,” said Steve Hinchman, attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. “The Legislature wrote the statute to protect themselves from exactly this kind of complaint.”
Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine called for a reform of Maine’s ethics rules and laws, saying it now is “basically a system without any teeth. It’s a green light — anything goes.”
The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices took up a case involving independent Rep. Thomas Saviello, who asked to be removed from the Natural Resources Committee pending the commission’s ruling.
Saviello is an employee of International Paper Co., which was involved in talks with state environmental officials over water pollution regulations. Saviello, who was also involved in the discussions, asked for the ethics commission review.
Saviello rescinded his request before Thursday’s commission meeting, but environmentalists had asked separately for a review.
The commission decided Thursday not to investigate whether Saviello abused his authority to loosen environmental standards for the mill. It also said his job at the Jay paper mill should not keep him off the committee that shapes Maine’s environmental laws.
“I did nothing wrong,” said Saviello, who had maintained that he doesn’t fight for the interest of his employer, but does fight for the hundreds of paper industry workers in his district.
Critics said Saviello pressured Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection to drop an environmental violation notice against the mill in return for his support on an Androscoggin River cleanup bill. The deal fell through and helped lead to last December’s resignation of former DEP Commissioner Dawn Gallagher.