Dan Esty LAW ’86, a professor at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, has been named to the transition team of President-elect Barack Obama.
Esty, who worked as an adviser on environment and energy to Obama during the campaign, confirmed the appointment in an e-mail message to the News last night. While he did not comment further and spokespeople for Obama could not be reached for comment late Monday, Esty’s appointment comes as little surprise; indeed, many faculty said it could be a precursor to an eventual appointment of Esty to the position of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, the organization’s top post.
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Obama made the issues of energy independence and climate change a hallmark of his presidential campaign, and Esty often spoke publicly on the campaign’s behalf on those issues. Obama officials have said that transition advisers will help the incoming administration prepare policy initiatives to be implemented after the inauguration; the elevation of Esty to that group, Yale professors and others who know Esty said, is a reflection of his prominence in the field of energy policy.
Reached by telephone late Monday, FES Dean Gus Speth ’64 LAW ’69 said he was unaware of Esty’s appointment, though he said he knew of his involvement with the Obama campaign and was not surprised that Esty would continue working for the president-elect. Speth occupied a role similar to Esty’s in the 1992 transition of former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73.
“It means,” Speth said, “that he’s going to have a very interesting job to do in the period ahead, preparing the new administration to come into office.”
For his part, Esty has significant experience working in Washington politics. Esty served in the EPA under former President George H.W. Bush ’48 from 1989 to 1993. During that time, he helped formulate the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments as well the environmental components of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.
Since leaving Washington, Esty has served with joint faculty appointments at FES and Yale Law School; he is now also the director of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for Business and Environment at Yale. In those capacities, colleagues said, Esty has been part of the integration of environmental concerns with initiatives in law and business.
“Dan Esty is one of the most wide-ranging faculty members at the school,” FES senior lecturer Fred Strebeigh ’74 said, adding that Esty has helped environmentalists move beyond “any notion that advancing the environment and advancing the economy should be even conceivably at odds.”
The title of Esty’s most recent book, “Green to Gold,” makes clear his interest in combining business and sustainability. Brad Gentry, the co-director of the Center for Business and Environment at Yale, noted that Esty has placed himself squarely in the vanguard of the environmental movement.
“He has an incredible ability to capture the essence of what’s on people’s minds and move them forward,” Gentry said. “He has knowledge of the environmental sector and knowledge of people in the sector, as well as knowledge of the interaction of energy and the environment.”
Mary Nichols LAW ’71 , chair of the California Air Resources Board and also a leading candidate for the position of administrator of the EPA, according to various media reports, praised the addition of Esty to the Obama team. She added that she is glad this transition is running more smoothly than Clinton’s did.
Nichols served as assistant administrator for the EPA’s Air and Radiation program under Clinton, but her appointment was delayed amid a difficult transition for Clinton that stalled progress in the earliest days of his presidency.
“We were able to hit the ground, but we lost almost a whole year because of the slowness of the transition,” she said. “So I’m very pleased that the Obama team has learned the lessons of the Clinton administration and is not going to make those mistakes.”
While faculty interviewed repeatedly called Esty a top candidate for the EPA job, they also noted that he is a potential replacement for Speth, who will step down as FES dean after this year. In that way, Esty’s growing involvement with Obama may mirror his description of the energy crisis America faces.
“The truth,” Esty told Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert in July, “is that everything we do has some trade-off.”