AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative panel on Wednesday backed Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s pick of a Poland Spring hydrogeologist for a spot on Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection.
The Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources voted 10-3 to support Poland Spring Natural Resource Manager Mark Dubois’ nomination. Seven citizens comprise the LePage-appointed state board that interprets environmental protections laws.
The nomination of an employee of a multinational bottled water company that’s pushing to expand groundwater withdrawal operations in rural communities across Maine drew criticism about potential conflicts of interest at a Wednesday committee hearing.
Dubois said he would recuse himself from considering groundwater withdrawal questions as well as matters related to Poland Spring, whose parent company is Nestle Waters North America. His nomination now heads to the Senate for a vote that committee co-chair Republican Sen. Tom Saviello said could take place Thursday.
“I’ve assured this committee, I will serve on the board in a personal capacity, not as a representative for any company in which I work,” Dubois said.
But Maine residents and environmental groups critical of Dubois’s nomination said recusal wasn’t enough to protect the public’s faith in state government. Several said Poland Spring has a strong influence in the state: Nestle has reported spending more than $200,000 on Maine contributions and campaigns since 2008, and Poland Spring Senior Natural Resource Manager Tom Brennan also sits on Maine’s public drinking water commission.
“Please don’t give them access to more classified information, which will allow them to push our citizens further for their almighty dollar,” said Nora Schwarz, who lives in Fryeburg, where Poland Spring is pushing to build a water bottling plant.
Dubois said he would face a civil violation if he didn’t recuse himself from matters related to Poland Spring. Nestle Waters didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The environmental protection board often considers water quality, wastewater, landfill and mining issues that could impact Poland Spring’s business, said Democratic Sen. Brownie Carson, former executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, who spoke at Wednesday’s hearing without taking a position on Dubois’s nomination.
But several committee members praised Dubois’ experience, and noted that other Board of Environmental Protection members also work or have worked for Maine energy and engineering companies.
“If there’s a company that’s interested in the cleanest water possible, it’s this one,” said Democratic Rep. Bob Duchesne.