(Updated 3:29) The governor’s environmental chief coined the phrase “green to gold” and then gave it a double meaning. But, he insisted Wednesday, he didn’t do anything wrong in the process.
The official in question, Daniel C. Esty (pictured), left his perch at Yale to head Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. He has recently come under fire for money he made giving speeches to companies he now regulates. The latest salvo came Tuesday when the Hartford Courant reported that Esty had received a $7,500 fee from United Illuminating and received $10,000 fees from UTC Power and ING, for speeches he made about three years ago.
Esty spoke out about the controversy in remarks to reporters at the Connecticut Convention Center Wednesday. Esty — who published a book about the economic advantages of environmental business development, called “Green to Gold” — defended his decision to take the speaking fees, which he said was different from the consulting fees he accepted from 26 companies and two organizations.
“I have a assembled a list of those companies, run it by all the top executives of the department, asked people to identify any case where there was an ongoing issue and recused myself from those organizations, institutions, and companies,” Esty said. “Giving a one-off speech is a very different thing.”
He estimated that he’s given hundreds of speeches over the past few years and some organizations gave him remuneration for those speeches. He said he took money from about 100 entities as part of his previous job.
The list of companies was released Wednesday afternoon. From 2006 through this year Esty made more than $1.2 million in speaking fees alone.
Earlier this summer Esty disclosed his “recusal list” of 26 companies and two organizations by whom he was paid as a consultant in the past five years and said he would not involve himself with as commissioner.
“I have been more forthcoming in disclosure than anyone is the history of the state of Connecticut,” Esty said. “People have a right to know where I’ve come from and what I’ve done in the past and I’ll put that out there.”
He said receiving a speaking fee is not going to impact his judgment as commissioner of DEEP.
“I think the truth is that I have no ongoing interest with any of these companies,” Esty said. “These are not a significant part of any of my past work.”
Esty said he will continue to give speeches, but won’t accept any financial consideration for them.
Earlier this week Esty was in Cleveland giving one of his last paid speeches to a civic organization. He said that the speech was booked more than a year ago. He was paid $15,000 for the speech and took a personal day in order to attend.
He said most of the payment he received for 95 percent of the speeches he made were from out-of-state entities. He said about 25 percent of his speaking engagements were outside of the United States.
“So I did have a certain amount of people who were interested in what I had to say,” Esty said. “I was offering a new approach. An approach that shifted the focus of environmental protection from the old command and control model to one that was focused on innovation and trying to engage the business community in solving problems and frankly one that I think holds the promise of creating an economic engine and a job engine.”
He said he doesn’t think now that he’s commissioner it makes any sense for him to speak outside the commissioner role. He said he will do the Connecticut Forum, but he won’t accept a speaking fee for his appearance.
Asked if he was worried about what appearance this may have on him as a commissioner, Esty said, “I think people are going to judge more by what I do with electric rates.”
Since this earlier this year rates have come down because the Competitive Transmission Assessment expired. It had been something lawmakers considered continuing to pay off more borrowing, but decided against borrowing more money.
Eric Brown, associate counsel at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said Esty personifies the word energy with the amount of energy he’s put into his new job as commissioner. He said he thinks what’s been showing up in the newspapers about Esty’s potential conflicts is “nonsense.”
Brown thanked Malloy for “appointing without question is the finest commissioner of environmental protection and energy in the country.”
Malloy defended him Wednesday, too.
“Listen, you sit in these types of meetings and you have people telling you time and time again that you have a world renowned leader driving environmental and energy policy in the state of Connecticut — who by the way has made a lot of money because people want to hear what he has to say,” Malloy said Wednesday morning.
He said Esty, an author and a former Yale professor, set all that aside and came to work for state government.
“Allowing him to honor his prior commitments is part of getting him to join the team,” Malloy said as he left the Connecticut Business and Industry Association breakfast on energy policy.
“Could he have handled it better? Yeah, I think he probably could have. But having said that, there is no conflict,” Malloy said at the Connecticut Convention Center later in the morning.
Esty attended CBIA‘s energy summit breakfast but did not speak at the event.