Gov. LePage set up wind-farm review panel to meet in private. Now, the names of its members are secret.
Gov. Paul LePage’s administration is refusing to identify the members of a public commission charged with reviewing the impact of wind farms on the state’s tourism economy.
LePage, a strident critic of wind power, ordered the commission created in January under an executive order that allows it to gather public comments but meet in secret. Now the administration is also keeping secret the names of the group’s members, saying it will reveal them only after public comments have been gathered.
Steve McGrath, who heads the governor’s energy office, declined to identify the members of the Maine Wind Energy Commission.
“The governor will release the names of the members of the wind commission when their first meeting is scheduled, which will likely be later summer or early September, after the public comments have been received,” McGrath replied via email.
McGrath was asked to provide the names by the Portland Press Herald, and if he couldn’t, to explain why they aren’t public information. McGrath didn’t answer the second question.
The newspaper has filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain the names. Maine’s Freedom of Access Act ensures the accountability of the government to the citizens of the state by requiring public access to the meetings of public bodies.
In February, Sig Schutz, an attorney at Preti Flaherty who specializes in public access law, sent a letter to the governor on behalf of the Press Herald asking him to reconsider the provision in his executive order authorizing the wind commission to meet in secret. Schutz said he never received a response.
On Tuesday, he said his interpretation of Maine’s public access law does not allow for keeping the names of the people serving on the commission secret.
“The net result, for now, is that the commission is made up of anonymous persons meeting in secret to engage in unknown activities,” said Schutz. “This is not normally how good policy is formulated or how a representative democracy conducts business.”
It is known that McGrath will chair the 14-member panel. That fact is disclosed in a sworn statement filed by McGrath on June 4, as part of a lawsuit by the Maine Renewable Energy Association. Maine’s wind energy industry is challenging the constitutionality of the moratorium. It accuses LePage of “unconstitutional executive overreach in creating a moratorium of indefinite duration that is contrary to the will of the Legislature.”
In McGrath’s sworn statement, he notes that the outgoing commissioner of Economic and Community Development, George Gervais, appointed him and 13 other people to serve on the study panel. He said he would hold the first meeting as soon as reasonably practicable.
In his first year in office, LePage created a 21-member business advisory panel that he tried to exempt from FOAA oversight by executive order. The group was supposed to meet in private with the commissioners of the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Labor.
Following a challenge from Maine media and advocates for government transparency, the governor abandoned his plan for the advisory group.
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