2007 Archive

Boalt Environmental Expert and Sacramento Insider Weighs in on Recent California Air Resources Board Nominee

Amid a flurry of controversy, Governor Schwarzenegger recently announced his appointment of Mary Nichols, an environmental lawyer and former assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to head the California Air Resources Board (ARB). If approved by the legislature, the appointment would mark Nichols' return to a post which she first held after being selected in 1978 by then-Governor Jerry Brown.

Nichols will replace former chairperson Robert Sawyers, who claims he was fired because the governor did not approve of his aggressive approach to implementing clean-air legislation. Schwarzenegger's choice of Nichols—a long-time environmental activist—is generally seen as an attempt to quell criticism of his ouster of Roberts and to reassert himself as a champion of the environment.

Rick Frank, Executive Director of the California Center of Environmental Law & Policy (CCELP) and former California Chief Deputy Attorney General, welcomes the appointment. Frank, who has known Nichols for 35 years, says, "Governor Schwarzenegger couldn't have made a better choice. Mary is the right person for the job regardless of the circumstances of her hiring. She's a remarkable lawyer and policymaker."

During her first term as chair of the Air Resources Board, Nichols pushed through the state's ban on lead in gasoline and its requirement that vehicles have catalytic converters. For the past three years, she has been a professor of law and director of UCLA's Institute of the Environment, an independent, interdisciplinary unit that sponsors research, teaching, and public service initiatives.

Most of the recent controversy over the ARB has arisen over its role in the implementation of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 25 percent by 2020. Democratic legislators want strict regulations or "caps," whereas Schwarzenegger and carbon-emitting industries are focused on "trade" initiatives that will allow businesses to purchase credits from others that have exceeded their reduction targets.

The debate should be over, according to Frank. "The legislation clearly allows both cap and trade, so trade will definitely be part of the implementation." Nichols—who administered a successful cap-and-trade program to reduce sulfur emissions that cause acid rain when she worked for the EPA—supports market-based mechanisms, but recognizes that "trading is just one tool. The key is the cap."

Frank believes an even greater challenge for the ARB may be AB 1493, the Vehicle Global Warming Law of 2002. The law directs ARB to require automakers to reduce carbon emissions from cars and light trucks beginning in 2009. The ARB is currently being sued by automakers in federal court, but it may have been given a boost by an April Supreme Court ruling that the Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority to regulate global warming pollution from cars.

CCELP is one of Boalt's newest research centers. CCELP's primary mission is to foster interdisciplinary environmental law and policy research and to translate that research into pragmatic solutions. Frank is currently looking at ways that CCELP can play a role in the implementation of global warming legislation in Sacramento.