In what felt at times more like a hearing for a Supreme Court justice, lawmakers questioned Yale Professor Daniel Esty, for more than two hours Thursday afternoon.
Esty, the governor’s nominee for the merged environment and energy agency, has written extensively on energy markets and climate change and he was quizzed by lawmakers about his book, “Green to Gold, How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage,” and various academic articles before his nomination was approved and forwarded to the House.
Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, came well-prepared for Esty’s nomination hearing and while he doesn’t agree with Esty’s conclusions regarding a harm charge or carbon tax on polluters he ultimately seemed supportive of his nomination.
“My vision for the future is cheap clean energy,” Esty told Fasano. However, he said that doesn’t mean he or the governor are proposing a harm charge on polluters as part of the budget proposal or any other piece of legislation.
“In the theoretical realm this idea is not new,” Esty said explaining the harm charge. “It’s connected to private property law,” where the idea is if I cause you or your property harm you pay for it.
But Fasano said incentives need to be a carrot not a stick. In an ideal world that would be great Esty said, but government is broke an doesn’t have incentives to be doling out at the moment.
Esty, an EPA official during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, said the Clean Air Act of 1990 escalated change by banning chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs and ended up driving innovations. In a couple of years the CFCs were replaced with cleaner materials.
“We’ve done this,” Esty told Fasano. “We know it works.”
Fasano didn’t disagree. He said in that case it did work.
Esty said that was a combination of carrots and sticks, but what worked two decades ago won’t work today. Washington D.C. is broken and innovative energy policy is stagnant because of partisan gridlock, he said.
Esty, a force in the “No Labels” political movement, told Fasano Connecticut has a chance to position itself as a clean energy leader.
However, Esty said he won’t be pushing his harm charge at the state level.
Instead, as the head of what Gov. Dannel Malloy hopes will be the merged Department of Environmental Protection and the Department Public Utility Control, Esty will be focused on diverse portfolio incentives.
“I believe we should have smarter regulations,” Esty said.
Businesses that come to the DEP for permits see it as a regulatory agency and many have complained that the permitting process is taking too long.
Regulators inside the agency have a goal of 60 days to issue a preliminary report on the applications, but Esty set an ambitious goal of shrinking that to two weeks. An internal review by the agency estimated it will take 60 new employees to make the agency, which has been plagued by early retirements in previous years, achieve that goal.
Environmentalists in the audience gasped in disbelief.
The goal of turning around an agency, while adding new bureaus to it is daunting, but Esty assured the committee he shares the governor’s belief “that a commitment to job creation needs to be our top priority – and deeply believe that environmental progress is much easier to achieve when the public feels confident about the economic future.”
Sen. John Fonfara, co-chairman of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, sat in the audience and watched part of the hearing.
“For as bright as he is, he’s not rigid,” Fonfara said Thursday evening. “I think he has the ability to bring together divergent interests.”
Fonfara, who has been working with Esty as he transitions into the new position, said he agrees that Connecticut is one of the top five states in the nation oriented toward technology development in the environmental and energy fields.
As commissioner Esty said he’s not going to be deciding what technologies win the race, the marketplace will.
Esty’s nomination now goes to the House of Representatives for approval. He had to be renominated earlier this week because his nomination expired before he was able to attend the hearing.