HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Daniel Esty, the point man in Connecticut's reshaping of energy policy, has resigned as commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Policy to return to Yale University.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Wednesday that Esty will leave the administration Feb. 3 to teach at the Ivy League university, which had granted him a three-year leave.
Environmentalists cheered Malloy's appointment of Esty as Connecticut's first commissioner of a merged energy and environmental agency in 2011. They saw an opportunity for new high-profile renewable energy policies linked to a cleaner environment. But Esty instead drew criticism from environmentalists who accused him of promoting state energy policies that suited businesses and few others.
Esty said Wednesday he is "very proud" at the transformation of the agency, particularly its regulatory work and the near-elimination of a permit backlog.
"There's a lighter regulatory burden but we're not lowering standards," he said.
John Rathgeber, president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he will miss Esty.
"He pursued a 21st century regulatory model, breaking down DEEP's core programs and rebuilding them for speed and efficiency and reducing the regulatory burden on businesses," he said.
A successor to Esty was not announced.
Malloy's Democratic administration and traditional environmentalist allies found common ground on most energy and environmental policies. But the Malloy administration's emphasis on business-based solutions alienated advocates who said more direct government action was required.
In an interview in May with The Associated Press, Esty said "the so-called command and control regulation ... has limited value in getting to the next stage of progress." He said Malloy's policies are turning away from an "outdated view" of protecting solar and wind power from competition and instead aim to promote competing sources of energy that are expected to drive down costs, he said.
In particular, environmentalists were frustrated that Malloy backed changes to renewable power rules favoring large-scale hydropower from Canada and boosting the state's use of natural gas.
"Certainly, there have been disagreements on some of the renewables policy, but there's been a lot of progress on renewables," said Chris Phelps, campaign director at Environment Connecticut, an advocacy group.
He credited Malloy and Esty for contributing to stronger standards to reduce carbon emitted from power plants.
Connecticut's electricity prices, among the highest in the U.S., emerged as major political issue after the legislature deregulated the industry about 15 years ago. Prices did not fall as expected, prompting consumers and businesses to pressure lawmakers to act.
Malloy entered office in 2011 promising broad changes in the state's energy markets. In addition to the new renewable energy rules, legislation expands the state's natural gas distribution system to take advantage of relatively cheaper energy. Family-owned oil dealerships blasted the measure, accusing Malloy of using state power to favor one business over another.
"I wish the commissioner the best of luck," said Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, a heating oil and propane dealers trade group that has criticized the policy. "We look forward to new opportunities working with new leadership."