Yale Alums Help Make Connecticut a
Model for Innovative Green Policymaking

Many of Connecticut’s recent achievements in environmental policy were led by faculty, alumni and students from F&ES. During a recent panel, some of these leaders discussed why the state has become a “laboratory” for sustainable development and green policy.
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Photo by Catherine Martini ’16 M.E.M.
Bryan Garcia ’00 M.E.M., President and CEO of the Connecticut Green Bank (left); State Rep. James Albis (D-East Haven) ’16 M.E.M.; State Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr. (D-Branford) ’91 M.E.Sc.; and Robert Klee ’99 M.E.Sc., ’04 J.D., ’05 Ph.D., Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP);
Political gridlock in Washington, D.C. has frustrated many critical federal environmental policy initiatives in recent years. But in Connecticut, leaders boast that a spirit of innovation and bipartisan cooperation has made the state a model for how to get things done on critical energy- and sustainability-related issues.
Many of the recent achievements — from the creation of the acclaimed Connecticut Green Bank and a new institute for climate resilience to the merging of the state’s environmental and energy agencies — have been led by faculty, alumni, even students, from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).
During a panel discussion at F&ES this week, several of those leaders discussed the factors that have made Connecticut a successful “laboratory” for sustainable development and environmental policy — and opportunities to make government work better for local communities and the environment.
A lot of the innovation, a lot of the thinking, is happening now at the state level. And Connecticut can really lead the way in a lot of the innovation that we’re seeing.
— Connecticut State Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr., (D-Branford) ’91 M.E.Sc
“A lot of the innovation, a lot of the thinking, is happening now at the state level,” said Connecticut State Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr. (D-Branford) ’91 M.E.Sc. “And Connecticut can really lead the way in a lot of the innovation that we’re seeing.”
Other panelists included State Rep. James Albis ’16 M.E.M. (D-East Haven), co-chair of the state’s Environment Committee; Bryan Garcia ’00 M.E.M., President and CEO of the Connecticut Green Bank; Robert Klee ’99 M.E.Sc., ’04 J.D., ’05 Ph.D., Commissioner of the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP); and Catherine Smith ’83 M.P.P.M., Commissioner of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).
The discussion was moderated by F&ES Prof. Dan Esty ’86 J.D., the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy and former DEEP commissioner. Joe MacDougald ’05 M.E.M., a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, offered introductory remarks.
One key ingredient in many of the state’s recent environmental successes, panelists said, was inclusion of multiple parties and, particularly in the current fiscal climate, the ability to limit the amount of public spending.
Locating outside funds is a foundational principle of the Connecticut Green Bank, which uses private capital and other funds to provide low-interest loans to projects exploring cleaner and cheaper energy technologies. And after just five years, Garcia said, the project has exceeded expectations.
“We have not only accelerated and attracted more private investment in Connecticut’s clean energy economy, [but] we’re looking at this fiscal year [achieving] a 10-to-1, if not 15-to-1, leverage ratio; for every dollar that comes in we get $10 to $15 of someone else’s money.”
The Green Bank, he said, recently completed a deal in which investor Hannon Armstrong will provide $100 million that Connecticut can use to support clean energy projects statewide. “That’s an example of how the green bank movement, how smart government, can use limited public dollars to scale up clean energy deployment,” Garcia said.

Spurred by Hurricane Irene, Student Balances Academics and Public Service

albis hartford
James Albis ’16 M.E.M. (right) was a rookie Connecticut lawmaker when Hurricane Irene devastated his coastal district. The event drove home the threats of climate change and heightened his awareness of environmental issues — and eventually led him to F&ES. Read more
And, he predicted, it’s a model that can ultimately be used to address other environmental challenges. “As a staff we had a conversation about what’s the future of this kind of movement,” he said. “We’re really thinking it’s all about sustainability: How do we treat waste? How do we deal with water? How do we deal with land use? This model can be applied to that.”
Albis, a second-term state representative who will earn a master’s degree from F&ES this spring, first sought a lead role on environmental issues after Hurricane Irene devastated his district in 2011.
In the aftermath of the storm, he led a shoreline preservation task force that initiated the momentum for a new climate resilience framework. The new Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation, which Albis helped create through legislation, now assists municipalities plan for the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise. “It doesn’t cost the state any extra money but utilizes our money in a more efficient manner and could save money down the road,” he said.
The urgency to manage costs has led DEEP to consistently evaluate how it can operate more efficiently and transform its processes, said Klee, who two years ago succeeded Esty as the agency commissioner. Within the department, he said, staff members are given the space to reimagine how things can be done more efficiently, and to share their lessons with other state departments, so that they can focus on their primary job.

Sustainability in New Haven

Before the panel discussion, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp described some of the initiatives adopted by the city to be a better environmental steward, from producing its own renewable energy to the addition of bioswales to improve water management.

And she described the importance of key partnerships to achieve these initiatives, including with the F&ES-led Hixon Center for Urban Ecology and the Urban Resources Initiative, which creates green jobs for city residents while also maintaining public parks, planting trees and installing green infrastructure.

“We already share a limited space,” she added. “We might as well learn to share resources, transportation options, and most importantly share responsibility for increased sustainability. We’re certainly working toward that end in my Administration, and I know you’re working toward that end here at Yale.”
“We have passionate, wonderful people who come to our agency to be active protectors of the environment and do innovative energy policy,” he said, “not to push paper.”
When the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development examined business sectors where the state could be a national leader, Smith said, one area that stood out is green technology.  “This is a place we think we can be strong and we can grow faster than the average state, or even faster than the average country,” she said.
And over the past few years the agency, along with Connecticut Innovations, the state’s venture capital arm, have offered support to help the sector get there. In addition to investing in 13 green tech companies since 2011, the state offers numerous programs that help new and established companies thrive, including mentoring help and assistance finding talent or partners, she said.
Kennedy, a survivor of bone cancer, says the health impacts of contamination inform the way he thinks about environmental issues.  And as co-chair of the state Environment Committee he has worked, with Albis, on a series of initiatives to address such threats, including a new law banning tiny plastic “microbeads” in cosmetics and efforts to reduce toxic substances at schools and playgrounds, and to protect the state’s honeybees and other pollinators.
Another area where policymakers can better protect public health, and the environment, Kennedy said, is by requiring producers and shippers to be responsible for some of the products that have become commonplace — and costly to dispose of — from mattresses to shipping materials.
“Making producers responsible for the lifecycle of those products is something that I think is a creative way to address this problem and not use additional resources,” he said.
Klee, whose research at F&ES was focused on the principles of industrial ecology, said a more thoughtful management of these materials could also create new economic opportunities.
“There is opportunity in waste,” he said. “There are new businesses that will come into [the] market and say, ‘Hey, I can take that clean stream of scrap tire, of mattress material, of glass or packaging, and turn it back into something and grow jobs right here.’”
PUBLISHED: April 7, 2016
Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles posted prior to July 1, 2020, refer to the School's name at that time.