Energy commissioner under fire

Dan Esty LAW ’86 said recent international efforts to improve energy policy have not done enough.
Dan Esty LAW ’86 said recent international efforts to improve energy policy have not done enough. Photo by Stephanie Rivkin.

Daniel Esty LAW ’86, commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, has spent the beginning of his tenure fighting criticism that he has not entirely left his private career behind.

Esty, who came to the post from a long career in the private sector, has come under fire in recent weeks for receiving compensation for speaking in a nonofficial capacity since his appointment in April. Though Esty and Gov. Dannel Malloy have defended the legality of these actions, DEEP communications director Dennis Schain said Esty will no longer accept speaking engagements outside of his official role.

A speech Esty gave at the Town Hall of Cleveland on Oct. 3 — for which he received $15,000 — triggered concerns because state law bars officials from accepting payment for speaking engagements they perform in their official capacity, said Carol Carson, the executive director of the Office of State Ethics.

Still, she said, Esty’s speech was legal because it was unrelated to his job as commissioner and he arranged it on his personal time.

In the future, however, Esty plans to stop accepting engagements outside of his governmental role because although legal, doing so “is not appropriate … and he wants to focus full-time on being a commissioner,” Schain said.

Although former state Senate Democratic spokesman Pat Scully said none of Esty’s actions have been illegal, he has publicly called for Esty’s removal from his position because the constant “appearance of a conflict” is a distraction from more substantive issues in the state.

“While Malloy is out taking about job creation and doing a jobs tour and holding a jobs convention … he’s battling for headlines [with] Mr. Esty,” Scully said.

Scully suggested that due to his experience in the private sector, Esty would be more suited to a policy role rather than a regulatory one.

In response to the criticism he has recently faced, Esty sent a letter yesterday to the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board for an opinion “regarding the interplay of my current position … and the business relationships from my former professional life.” The CEAB has not yet responded.

Another major concern critics have raised is the fact that Esty’s department regulates companies that paid him for speeches and consulting work in the past.

Esty recused himself from making decisions related to any company he had consulted for in the five years before his term as commissioner began, Schain said. But prior to this five-year period, Schain added, Esty worked with some of the major electric utility companies his department currently oversees, such as Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating.

Connecticut law has no “reverse revolving door” policy, meaning the commissioner’s prior business relationships do not preclude him from regulatory duties, Carson said.

“The governor’s office was aware of Mr. Esty’s past work [before appointing him] and the governor has said multiple times that he does not believe there is a conflict,” said Malloy spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan.

In some states, state law requires public figures with the “appearance of a conflict of interest” to disclose all past relationships that could jeopardize his or her impartiality, said Carson. Though this policy does not exist in Connecticut, Esty distributed in July his recusal list, composed of the clients he had consulted for while working for Esty Environmental Partners.

In addition to his past consulting work, Esty gave hundreds of speeches to businesses, universities and nonprofit organizations before he assumed the post of commissioner. In a letter to the CEAB, Esty said these “one-time engagements did not constitute active involvement” and were therefore not included on his recusal list. Schain added that these issues arise for many people transitioning from the private sector to the public sector.

Esty is the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, with appointments at the Yale Law School and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is on leave from 2011 to 2012.

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