Robert Klee LAW ’04 FES ’05, chief of staff at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), was appointed as the department’s new commissioner on Thursday.

Klee will replace Dan Esty LAW ’86, a professor at the Law School and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, who has served as commissioner for the past three years. Klee has served as Esty’s chief of staff since Esty took office in 2011.

“My current job has been my dream job,” Klee said. “But I think this new one kind of tops it.”

Klee said he is excited about many aspects of his upcoming position: increasing the availability of cheap, clean energy, protecting shoreline communities, cleaning up natural parks and reducing the amount of paperwork required to get things done.

Esty commended Klee’s work as chief of staff, saying that Klee has been involved in every program across the agency during his time on the job.

“In the chief of staff role, he covered the full spectrum of activities of this department, and he did so with the breadth of knowledge of a scientist and the attention to detail of a lawyer,” Esty said.

Klee has an undergraduate degree in geology and environmental science from Princeton, and he studied both science and law at Yale. In 1997, he enrolled as a graduate student at the School of Forestry, and, after receiving a master’s degree in environmental studies, went on to pursue a graduate degree, concentrating in industrial ecology. Though his primary dissertation adviser was Professor Thomas Graedel, another member of his dissertation committee was his boss-to-be, Dan Esty.

“I’ve known him for 15 years,” Esty said. “And have seen him building the extraordinary background he now brings to the leadership of DEEP.”

While enrolled as a doctoral student at F&ES, Klee decided to pursue a law degree. He took a few years off of his Ph.D. program to enroll in the Yale Law School. While in the Law School, he served as a TF for one of Esty’s classes.

In his thesis, Klee analyzed “material flow” in Antarctica — how substances brought into Antarctica changed forms as humans used them. Among the subjects he studied was how food imported for scientists in Antarctica turns into liquid and solid waste, and where the waste goes. Esty said that Klee’s dissertation “demonstrates a capacity to think in innovative ways about areas of policy that need to be transformed.”

Graedel, Klee’s primary advisor, praised his student’s drive in his dissertation research. He said Klee traveled across the world, from Germany to England to New Zealand, in search of data about what different countries were bringing into and taking out of Antarctica.

“It was a demonstration for me of his initiative and willingness to chart his own course, so to speak,” Graedel said.

Klee will have to make use of this skill in his new position. Esty said he will remain available for informal advice, but he is returning to his professorship at Yale. He is already teaching a course this spring, F&ES 840: “Climate Change and the Quest for Green Energy.”

“Rob [will be] in the seat of responsibility and leading the charge,” Esty said.

Klee already has a head start — over the past few years, he has been overseeing an effort to improve the efficiency of the agency, a program that he looks forward to continuing as commissioner. He said his staff’s time would be better spent not “pushing paper,” but instead helping individuals and businesses act in compliance with regulations.

Two weeks ago, Governor Malloy’s office announced that Esty would be leaving his position at DEEP and returning to Yale. Malloy spoke with Esty, and several high-ranking people within DEEP, to find a new commissioner, said Dennis Schain, DEEP’s communications director.

Klee said that he got word of his appointment the night before the information went public at a press conference.

“I was thrilled and honored that he picked me,” Klee said. “My mom’s really proud of me too — and my wife as well.”

Klee will take over as the commissioner designee on Monday, although his appointment is still subject to the confirmation of the General Assembly, which begins its session on Feb. 5.