Yale professor, Obama adviser to head environment agency

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today named Daniel C. Esty, a Yale professor with a national reputation for reconciling environmentalism and economic growth, as his choice to run a new Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Daniel C. Esty

Daniel C. Esty

Esty, 51, an energy adviser to Barack Obama’s campaign and transition team, is the author of nine books, including a volume that marked him as an environmentalist attuned to economics, “Green to Gold, How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage.”

“Specifically, it is not an environmentalist telling businesses how to behave, but is a business perspective on bringing the environment into corporate strategy,” one reviewer wrote of the book that Esty co-authored with a Yale colleague, Andrew Winston.

Malloy, who has known and consulted with Esty since his first campaign for governor in 2006, said that Esty has a perspective he wants in the man who will be his “go to guy” on energy and environmental policy. Until the legislature approves the new consolidated agency, Esty will run the existing Department of Environmental Protection.

“I know this new department will be on the cutting edge of environmental law and strategy with Dan at the helm,” Malloy said.

Esty was reported as being on Obama’s short list for possible administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked as a top aide to Administrator Wiliam Reilly during the administration of George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993, but he said today that being overlooked for the post was fortuitous.

“I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be here today,” Esty said. “Washington is so badly broken down. We’re going to be able to do in Connecticut things that can be done as a pilot for the entire country.”

Malloy said Esty will be responsible for the enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, but he also will act as a high-level adviser on how to grow clean-energy jobs and to end Connecticut’s unhappy status as the state with the most expensive electricity in the continental United States.

“This governor has the vision of how to move forward on energy and the environment that I’ve been trying to sell for 20 years,” Esty said. “I couldn’t find a better plaform for my vision of how to address these issues.”

Malloy’s choice was applauded by environmentalists and a lobbyist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

Jessie Stratton, a former legislator who is the director of government relations for Environment Northeast, said it is time for a environmental commissioner who understands energy issues.

“We created our environmental regulatory structure in the 1970s. This is 2011,” Stratton said.

Eric Brown, the lobbyist for CBIA, said he was encouraged by the appointment and Malloy’s emphasis on protecting the environment while working to create a better climate for jobs. He said they seemed intent on “jettisoning the 1970s attitude that business is the bad guy.”

Don Strait, the executive director of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, where Esty is a board member, was not bothered by Malloy choosing someone with a sensitivity to business needs.

“Professor Esty is one of the nation’s leading experts on environmental strategy. He brings a rare combination to this job with his experience in government and business as well as his background working on environment and energy issues,” Strait said. “His cutting edge thinking about environmental and energy policy and business realities combined with his commitment to data driven solutions that bring about real change will make him an effective leader of this new department.”

Esty is the latest Malloy appointee whose selection reflects the governor’s interest in finding appointees with expertise in business growth. To run the insurance department, Malloy looked past consumer advocates and chose a venture capitalist with insurance expertise.

“I am committed to enforcing the law,” Esty said. “I believe that we need to take seriously the fact that every company’s going to be held to the standards of the law, and we’ll follow through on that, but I do have kind of a reputation for trying to engage the business community as well.”

Esty is the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale and holds faculty positions in the university’s environment and law schools. He also serves as the director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for Business & Environment at Yale.

He has had an extensive consulting practice while at Yale, including advising Unilever and Coca-Cola. He also was involved in the centrist “no labels” movement to shape environmental policy.

Esty is married to former Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Cheshire.

He has a B.A. in economics from Harvard, where he won the senior economics prize, an M.A. from Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar, and a law degree from Yale. He will take a “public service leave of absence” from Yale, which lasts two years but is renewable, he said. His salary will be $139,000.