Klee — who took over the state’s top environmental office in January — says his new role offers the opportunity to use everything he’s learned over the last two decades, including his student years at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. His training at F&ES comes up frequently, Klee says, whether it’s when he’s exploring ways to improve agency efficiencies, re-imagining how the state can manage its waste, or simply being able to speak intelligently with the state’s foresters.
“It goes all the way back to MODs [the F&ES summer orientation],” he says. “I was on the industrial ecology management side at F&ES, but I also knew about the people doing wildlife ecology and social ecology.
“I know how to look at a stand of trees and I know what basal diameter means.”
ack in the late 1990s, Robert Klee was a student in the F&ES master’s program when he caught the attention of Thomas Graedel
, a professor of industrial ecology. Graedel eventually convinced Klee to enroll in the doctoral program.
“He was not only an excellent student and hard-working,” Graedel remembers, “but he had a lot of initiative and was innovative.”
Graedel would become Klee’s Ph.D. advisor, assisting him on his dissertation research. For the project, Klee conducted a materials flow analysis of scientific research stations in Antarctica, comparing how several different countries managed their energy use and tried to minimize their material consumption.
“He ended up doing a very nice project that you still see referred to from time to time,” Graedel says. “Because nobody else had done that kind of research on the continent before.”
For Klee, these international performances on Antarctica offered a glimpse in microcosm of how governments can monitor and improve their efficiency performance and reduce their environmental footprint.
In February, during his confirmation hearing at the state capitol in Hartford, Klee noted that in some circles his Ph.D. research also earned him the nickname “Dr. Trash.”
“It’s a nickname I like, however,” he told state lawmakers, “especially because transforming Connecticut’s waste management system in order to capture more of the economic value of materials in our waste stream is a major challenge facing our state.”
efore completing his Ph.D., Klee took a three-year break from the program to attend Yale Law School. He figured a law degree would be a valuable complement to his scientific background.
“Particularly in the environmental arena,” he says, “you quickly get to questions and problems that require that bridge between scientific data and studies and how they translate into policies and programs that can really change the way our society is structured and organized.
“It’s often an interesting and challenging translation process. You have to use a whole lot of tools from a whole lot of places to make that happen.”