June 21, 2013

Maine Sierra Club calls for Aho's resignation

The Maine chapter cites the DEP commissioner's lax enforcement of state environmental laws.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA —The Maine chapter of the Sierra Club on Friday called on Gov. Paul LePage to request the resignation of his environmental protection commissioner, Patricia Aho.

click image to enlarge

Maine DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho chairs a public hearing on an an 18-turbine wind farm being proposed in Hancock County in this June 6, 2013, photo. The hearing took place at the Airline Community School in Aurora.

Carl D. Walsh / Staff Photographer

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Read Sierra Club letter to Gov. LePage

Becky Bartovics, co-chairwoman of the Sierra Club, said in a letter to LePage that Aho "had repeatedly failed to carry out her responsibilities to serve the public" because of her lax enforcement of the state's environmental laws. Bartovics wrote that Aho, a former lobbyist, had instead used her position to further the interests of her former corporate clients from the law firm Pierce Atwood.

"Our environmental laws and regulations are in place to preserve and protect the resources on which the people of Maine survive and rely," Bartovics wrote. "There is nothing in our experience that indicates Ms. Aho has any respect for the need to preserve any portion of her charge or promote fair and even-handed application of the process of government."

Bartovics also asked that the governor terminate the services of Ann Robinson, a lobbyist with the law firm Preti Flaherty. Robinson has acted as LePage's regulatory reform adviser.

The letter was sent to the legislative leadership and the co-chairmen of the Legislature's Government Oversight Committee and the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

The letter comes on the heels of a seven-month Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram investigation that found Aho, a former industrial and corporate lobbyist who became commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection in 2011, has scuttled programs and fought against laws that were opposed by many of her former clients in the chemical, drug, oil and real estate development industries.

The investigative series also found that Robinson pushed for regulatory changes that benefited her clients. Robinson is still a registered lobbyist at the State House.

The LePage administration has since accused the newspaper of having a political agenda and earlier this week said that most state agencies would not participate in news stories published by the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

The governor's spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Prior to the gag order, Aho rebutted the allegations in a reaction story published Tuesday. She said her past work as a lobbyist has no impact on how she does her job.

Republican lawmakers defended Aho, as well.

"Commissioner Aho's actions have been consistent with the rule of law while balancing the needs of our economy," said House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport.

Aho granted the Press Herald/Telegram one interview during the seven-month reporting of the series and declined subsequent requests.

Bartovics wrote that the series reflected the Sierra Club's experiences with Aho.

"Each of our organizations has common and separate experience with the DEP under Ms. Aho that proves her allegiance is not to the office she serves or the people of this state, but to the business constituents she has previously been employed by," Bartovics wrote.

She added, "Business friendly does not require a wholesale destruction of our environment -- most of the businesses in Maine rely on preserving the integrity of our environment to thrive and survive."

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

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