State Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola asked the state attorney general Monday to investigate the propriety of a conference call last week in which the state’s energy and environment commissioner, Dan Esty, gave a briefing to an investment firm’s clients about state plans and pending legislation concerning energy.
Labriola wrote a letter to state Attorney General George Jepsen, asking that he “investigate the actions of Daniel Esty, Commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, regarding his participation in a conference call conducted by a private equity company, UBS Securities.”
Labriola said that in the conference call last Tuesday, Esty spoke with UBS’s “investment clients and possibly others concerning legislative language that had yet to be publicly released or discussed by the Connecticut General Assembly.”
A vote on the pending legislation had been planned for Wednesday, but news of Esty’s participation in the conference call caused a controversy that contributed to postponing the vote — possibly to this coming Wednesday. Esty apologized last week for the timing of his participation in the conference call, saying it had been planned weeks in advance and, if he had it to do over again, he wouldn’t have done it a day before a scheduled key vote.
Labriola added: “I specifically request that you examine the appropriateness and legality of Commissioner Esty, in his regulatory capacity, participating in such a call. There are several troubling questions that must be explored and answered regarding this incident.”
“The first question is why did the Commissioner even participate in this call in the first place? There appears to be no State or public interest served by participating in the conference call,” Labriola wrote.
Labriola noted that Esty was paid $205,000 by Northeast Utilities as a consultant from 1997 to 2005, before he became Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s DEEP commissioner in 2011, and wrote: “It appears that Commissioner Esty…was trying to curry favor with an entity that formerly employed him.”
“The only parties that could possibly benefit from Esty’s participation are UBS’ clients, including NU,” Labriola wrote. “The incident strongly suggests that Commissioner Esty has continued his close relationship with NU and that he continues to be accommodating by making continued deposits into the corporate ‘favor bank.’”
The Republican Party released the letter Monday afternoon to the media, saying it was being mailed and faxed to Jepsen.
DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain responded late Monday afternoon, saying: “As the Commissioner has said, the timing of the call was unfortunate but participating in such a call is very much in keeping with his responsibilities for the development and implementation of energy policy.”
“One of the guiding principles of CT’s energy strategy is to attract private investment for our efficiency and renewable energy initiatives – instead of relying only on taxpayer or ratepayer dollars,” Schain said. “If we are going to be successful with this approach you simply have to talk to the investment community.”
Last week, Esty told The Courant in an interview that there was nothing wrong with his participating in the conference call to talk about the state’s renewable energy plans and pending legislation on that topic. He said it’s his job as commissioner to get the word out about the administration’s programs for cleaner and renewable energy — adding that nothing about the state’s policies or his participation in the phone call favored NU over competitors.
Labriola continued in his Monday letter: “By statute, the Commissioner is charged with protecting the State of Connecticut, the public trust and the interests of ratepayers. Instead, he has taken an action that serves and benefits only specific investors. The appearance of a conflict is overwhelming. The relationship between Commissioner Esty and his former corporate employers appears to have remained close after his entry into state government – far too close to maintain public confidence in his impartiality as a regulator.”
Labriola said “this incident raises other questions that Connecticut residents deserve answers to and that must be addressed:
“In addition to this particular briefing for investors, has Commissioner Esty participated in any other briefings with other investment firms at any other time?
“Why did Commissioner Esty brief this particular firm?
“Who asked Commissioner Esty to brief UBS? Did UBS request the briefing? Did Governor Malloy ask Esty to participate in the conference call? Or did Commissioner Esty initiate the action?
“If the action emanated from the Governor’s Office, why did they get involved?
“Did Commissioner Esty share the non-disclosed legislative language with any other public or private entity? If so, who and why? If not, why was UBS given preferential treatment? Taxpayers deserve to know who else – if anyone – benefited from information provided by the Commissioner.
“Did Commissioner Esty ever do consulting or any kind of other work for UBS or any of its affiliates prior to becoming Commissioner?
“Why did Commissioner Esty believe it was appropriate to share unreleased and confidential legislative language pertaining to a bill that was scheduled for a vote the very next day?
“These questions deserve a thorough investigation and the people of Connecticut deserve answers. I have submitted an FOIA request of DEEP, Commissioner Esty and Governor Malloy’s office for any emails, memos, text messages, phone messages and any other correspondence on this incident and any other matter involving UBS between February 1, 2013 and today. You may wish to request copies of any responses provided to me under this request.
“There does not appear to be any public or State benefit to Commissioner Esty participating in a conference call to brief one investment firm for the benefit of its clients. I can determine no possible compelling State interest that would have the Commissioner participate in this conference call. If there is another interest involved, I believe Connecticut taxpayers deserve an explanation of what it is.”
Labriola was the second Republican Monday to raise a question relating to Esty’s past consulting relationship with NU. Hours earlier, Republican 5th District congressional candidate Mark Greenberg criticized Esty’s wife — Democratic U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty — over what he called her belated return $3,500 in campaign contributions from NU executives and lobbyists.
Elizabeth Esty had returned those contributions after news of her husband’s conference call sparked criticism by the National Republican Campaign Committee.