HARTFORD, CT, March 13, 2013 – Asserting that the state and nation are at “a watershed moment,” Daniel C. Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Policy (DEEP), told a Common Hour audience Tuesday that new and innovative strategies must be developed to meet the daunting challenges of the 21st century.
Speaking to a Washington Room gathering that included students from the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy, Esty said the policies that have been used in the past are insufficient and in need of a major overhaul. “What we’ve been doing is no longer working,” said Esty, who was named to head the Department of Environmental Protection by Gov. Dannel Malloy in March 2011. The agency has since been reorganized to include energy policy. “What we did 30 and 40 years ago not going to serve us well going forward.”
Esty, who was instrumental in formulating the state’s first-ever Comprehensive Energy Plan, said states can’t look to Washington D.C. for guidance given the partisan gridlock that’s paralyzed Congress. It was a little more than a year ago that some Republican presidential candidates were trashing the Environmental Protection Agency and proposing to eliminate the Department of Energy.
Esty conceded that the environmental policies that were enacted in the latter part of the 20th century resulted in major improvements, not the least of which was changing the colors of Connecticut rivers from various hues (orange, red and green, for example) to blue, thanks to strict dumping regulations. Other crucial steps were taken to clean up former industrial sites and other types of water, soil and air pollution.
Having achieved success in some of those areas, Esty said, what’s needed now is a more flexible, refined policy, one that uses a “market mechanism approach to environmental protection” and provides economic incentives rather than a “stick” approach that stifles economic and job growth.
In terms of environmental protection, business and industry need to step up and adopt the newest technologies that are available, policies that are not only cost effective but consume less energy and promote sustainability, the new “watchword” in the public policy domain.
In a play on the word DEEP, Esty noted that ideally there should be another “E” added, one that stands for economy. What that does, said Esty, is take into account that environmental and energy policy cannot be in conflict with the economic realities of our time.
Esty, who served in a variety of senior positions at the EPA before accepting his state job, noted that a new “lighter regulatory structure” needs to be created, one that would not necessarily lower standards but would be more effective, faster, more predictable and more transparent.
“In an era of limited budgets, we need to prioritize and focus on the biggest concerns,” he said.
Turning his attention to energy, Esty said the state and nation must reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and imports from foreign countries whose geopolitical politics could wreak havoc with U.S. energy needs. The U.S. and Connecticut, in particular, must continue their search for cheaper and cleaner power. Esty noted that there have been five “catastrophic storms” since Malloy took office, and energy reliability has become a major problem that must be dealt with.
In the plan that’s been released, there is a call for a micro-grid pilot project. Micro-grids would be able to provide electricity in the event that major power grids were rendered inoperable, Esty told the Common Hour audience.
But Esty also emphasized that there is not one solution to the state’s energy needs. Solar, hydro, wind, waves, geothermal and other sources should all be pursued, although currently none are particularly cost effective. “We need to create a platform for innovation,” he said, adding that entrepreneurs are in great demand in the energy field. For example, although the cost of solar power has already been but cut in half, there is still a long way to go to make solar power competitively priced.
As of now, Esty said the most realistic alternative to fossil fuels is natural gas, which is plentiful (especially from shale) and relatively inexpensive. However, natural gas pipelines are not available in all locations in Connecticut. Malloy and Esty would like to change that.
Esty said Connecticut must also do more with public transit and alternative forms of transportation. Asked what a College such as Trinity could do to reduce its energy usage and help shrink its carbon footprint, Esty said Trinity could build a low-cost charging station so that electric vehicles would be a viable on-campus option.
“The bottom line,” said Esty, “is that the world is changing beneath our feet. I see great prospects for the spirit of innovation” to flourish.
The Comprehensive Energy Plan, which was unveiled in February, is an assessment and strategy for all residential, commercial and industrial energy uses. The development of the plan was mandated by the General Assembly in June 2011 and must be updated every three years.
Prior to becoming commissioner, Esty was the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University. He also served as the Director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for Business & Environment at Yale. Esty is the author or editor of numerous books and articles on environmental policy issues and the relationship between environmental and corporate strategy, including his prizewinning book, Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage. In 2011, Esty published a follow-up, The Green to Gold Business Playbook: How to Implement Sustainability Practices for Bottom-Line Results in Every Business Function.
Esty earned a B.A. from Harvard, a master’s degree from the University of Oxford, and a law degree from Yale.
The 2013 Comprehensive Energy Plan for Connecticut can be viewed at: http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=4405&Q=500752&deepNav_GID=2121.