Esty op-ed on long-held idea prompts fresh GOP indignation

“Pain at the Pump? We Need More.”

Now, that’s a provocative headline for a New York Times opinion piece calling for a carbon tax, especially when one of the authors is Daniel C. Esty, the man advising Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on energy policy.

And provoke it did. House Republicans used the article to assert Thursday that Esty had outlined “a Malloy administration proposal that would send gasoline and energy prices skyrocketing.”

But the opinion piece breaks no new ground, nor does it refer to a Malloy administration proposal. It reflects Esty’s recommendation–one fully vetted by Republicans during his confirmation hearing–for federal energy policy.

Moreover, it was written months before Malloy nominated Esty to head the Department of Environmental Protection.

“It does not represent the governor’s point of view. It represents Dan Esty’s point of view,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor’s senior adviser. “He’s entitled to have an opinion. Gov. Malloy makes state policy.”

Occhiogrosso said Esty had submitted the article, written with Harvard business professor Michael E. Porter, in December. He gave the governor’s office a heads up Wednesday that the article was finally being published by The Times.

The article is consistent with previous writings by the well-published Esty, a prominent author and Yale professor when Malloy chose him in February as his environmental commissioner and energy adviser.

Call it a “carbon tax” or “emissions charge,” Esty is an unapologetic advocate of slowly making new, alternative energy sources more competitive with oil, gas and other carbon-based fuels.

“The best way to drive energy innovation would be an emissions charge of $5 per ton of greenhouse gases beginning in 2012, rising to $100 per ton by 2032,” Esty and Porter wrote. “The low initial charge, starting next year, would make the short-term burden on consumers and businesses almost negligible.”

In fact, similar writings were the subject of lengthy questioning by Republicans on the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee in March. A year ago, he wrote a piece in the Huffington Post proposing a “harm charge” of $4 per ton, rising to $86 per ton in 2032.

After Esty assured the committee that he had no intention of seeking a state carbon tax or harm charge–and that in fact such a tax would make no sense on the state level–he was unanimously confirmed.

The timing of the Times’ article, coinciding with a push by the co-chairs of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee for a new tax on the generation of electricity, made it seem to some Republicans that Esty now was pushing a state carbon tax.

“I’m steamed about it,” said Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, who led the GOP questioning of Esty during the confirmation hearing. Later Thursday, Fasano said he was less alarmed about the article if Esty wrote it months ago.

The office of House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, issued a scathing press release.

“While every other governor in the country is trying to figure out  how to make gas and energy cheaper, our governor’s energy and environmental czar is trying to make sure prices become truly unaffordable beginning in 2012,” Cafero said, adding the proposal “is not just misguided, it’s insane.”

But Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, who is a member of the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee, said he found op-ed article consistent with Esty’s testimony.

Esty was out of state at an environmental meeting, but a spokesman said the op-ed article expressed the same opinions the commissioner offered during his confirmation hearing.

Patrick O’Neil, a spokesman for the House Republicans, said it was accurate to refer to the Esty’s call for a federal carbon tax as “a Malloy administration proposal, ” because Esty was the administration’s energy adviser.

“We’re not backing off one inch,” he said.