Thursday, July 5, 2007
Schwarzenegger Names Mary Nichols Chair of State Air Resources Board
From Staff and Wire Reports
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Tuesday appointed Los Angeles-based environmental law expert and former state Resources Secretary Mary D. Nichols as chair of the California Air Resources Board.
Nichols, who previously served as CARB chair in the late 1970s and early 1980s, said at a news conference she was excited to about her return, adding she would now be able to “help restore and burnish the credentials” of the agency.
“It’s just a terrific time to be coming to the Air Resources Board, with all of the work and with all of the decisions that have to be made,” she remarked.
Nichols replaces Robert Sawyer, whom Schwarzenegger fired last week days after the 11-member board sought a delay for tougher air quality standards in the San Joaquin Valley. CARB’s executive officer, Catherine Witherspoon, resigned Monday.
Both say top aides to Schwarzenegger interfered in their work and tried to undermine implementation of the state’s landmark global warming law.
Asked at the news conference whether she worried that administration officials might interfere with her work, Nichols said, “I think that I will be given all of the tools I need to do my job.” Schwarzenegger defended his staff, denying they had micromanaged the air board and said Nichols would lead the agency through its problems.
“I believe that there is also no better person, more experienced person, that is better prepared, that is tough, than Mary Nichols,” he said, adding the agency’s work was “a team effort.”
Nichols, 62, headed the state Resources Agency under former Gov. Gray Davis and has worked closely with Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, who also worked in the Davis administration. Witherspoon and Sawyer said Kennedy sent mixed signals about global warming and often intervened on behalf of businesses that want to weaken the law.
Nichols was the first person to chair the board under former Gov. Jerry Brown. She later served in the Clinton administration.
Most recently, she has been director of the Institute of the Environment at UCLA, where she also holds faculty-in-residence status at the law school.
UCLA law school Dean Michael Schill told the MetNews Nichols is “an incredibly gifted administrator and a fantastic lawyer.”
“I really can’t think of anyone I would rather have entrusted with the care and protection of our environment,” he said, adding it was not yet certain how the demands of her new job would affect her responsibilities at UCLA.
Witherspoon also said Nichols was a good choice to lead the agency.
“She knows everything there is to know about air quality,” Witherspoon said. “She knows and respects the staff, and they feel the same about her. And she has the personal fortitude to step into the climate quagmire.”
The upheaval at CARB has been an embarrassment for Schwarzenegger, who has been depicted around the world as a champion for the environment.
On Friday, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, a Berkeley Democrat, will hold a hearing to look into the departures. Sawyer and Witherspoon have agreed to testify.
One question the committee may also delve into is why Witherspoon’s computer mysteriously stopped working over the weekend. She said she came to work to download her resume but could not get into the system.
She said computer technicians concluded after several hours of trying to get it to work that someone must have tampered with it. Democrats say they will ask for the computer to be turned over as part of their investigation.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, praised the appointment of Nichols but said the administration must do more to show it is committed to putting teeth into the global warming law.
“That will also require a commitment from the rest of the Schwarzenegger administration to stop activities seen as undermining the gold-standard global warming legislation we approved,” Nunez said in a statement. “Those activities, along with steps that can ensure the independence and effectiveness of the Air Resources Board, will continue to be the focus of my oversight hearing on [Friday].”
Schwarzenegger said he would not allow Kennedy and another aide sought by Nunez’s committee, Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, to testify. Instead, he invited Nunez to his smoking tent to air his concerns privately.
Nichols must be confirmed by the state Senate, where she is likely to face tough questions about how she plans to implement the global warming law, known as AB32.
Democrats are pushing for a regulatory approach to reducing the heat-trapping gases that are thought to be warming the Earth’s atmosphere as they implement the law. But the governor favors a market-based system to allow companies that cannot reduce their emissions to buy credits from others that exceed their reduction targets.
Witherspoon said the air board was caught in the middle of this dispute and it contributed to her decision to step down.
Nichols said she supported market-based mechanisms as part of a broader effort that includes regulation. She said she already ran a cap-and-trade program on acid rain when she was at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“I think I can speak with some authority,” she said. “It takes a strong regulatory backdrop. It takes good measurement and monitoring. It also takes a recognition that trading is just one tool. The key is the cap.”
After her appointment was announced, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, released a letter to the governor in which he promised to examine whether Nichols could remain independent in the face of pressure from the governor’s office.
He said the Senate would “determine the extent to which she is both knowledgeable about the law — and the law’s emphasis on strong regulation over market mechanisms — as well as independent, even if given a directive to take an action in conflict with AB32.”
Admitted to the State Bar of California in 1972, Nichols began her legal career as an attorney for the Center for Law in the Public Interest in Los Angeles, where she brought the first lawsuit under the then-recently passed Clean Air Act.
Her extensive experience as a lawyer includes founding the Los Angeles office for Natural Resources Defense Council, where she worked as senior attorney from 1989-93.
Nichols holds degrees from Yale Law School and Cornell University.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company