New Head of California Air Agency Faces Complex Challeges

SACRAMENTO, California, July 9, 2007 (ENS) - Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has appointed environmental lawyer and educator Mary Nichols as chair of the California Air Resources Board, CARB. She takes charge of the state's transition from suffering some of the nation's worst air pollution to taking the lead in combating climate change.

Nichols replaces Dr. Robert Sawyer who was fired in late June after a disagreement with the governor over a deadline for enforcing the federal Clean Air Act in the San Joaquin Valley, the heart of California's agricultural region.

She had been serving as director of the University of California-Los Angeles Institute of the Environment.

Nichols previously held the CARB chair from 1978 to 1983 and was a Board member for seven years. She served as assistant administrator for air and radiation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration.

Mary Nichols accepts her new role as head of the California Air Resources Board from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
"Today, I am proud to appoint a real powerhouse to lead California’s most important environmental agency,” Governor Schwarzenegger said Thursday. “There is no one more qualified, more committed and more able to lead our efforts on climate change and air quality than Mary Nichols."

Aides in the governor’s office said Sawyer’s appointment was rescinded after the Board voted June 14 to delay imposing federal air quality standards in the San Joaquin Valley until 2024.

Sawyer, a professor emeritus at the University of California-Berkeley, has said San Joaquin Valley air was not really the issue in his dismissal. He views the issue as the independence of the Board from the governor’s direction.

While announcing Nichol's appointment, the governor made it clear that to him the San Joaquin Valley is the issue.

"When one out of six residents in the San Joaquin Valley has been diagnosed with asthma and one in five children carry an inhaler to school, it is a call to action," he said. "The Air Resources Board must keep California on the path of cleaner air, particularly in areas with significant air quality issues such as the San Joaquin Valley, the South Coast and areas around our ports."

Nichols will be in charge of California's two showpiece climate initiatives. The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 establishes a statewide target for greenhouse gas reduction by 2020. CARB is empowered to adopt an emissions limit and regulations, market mechanisms, and early action measures to achieve it.

The governor's Low Carbon Fuel Standard established by executive order in January requires a 10 percent emissions reduction by 2020. CARB oversees implementation of this early action measure.

Nichols said, "I look forward to working with the governor to balance California’s goals for better air quality with the economic needs of our state while encouraging the technological advancements necessary to attain clean air for all Californians."

With its worldwide reputation, CARB's integrity and capability have never been more important, said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Its mandate to reduce global warming pollution is as complex a challenge as anything it's ever faced."

"Mary Nichols has proven her mettle time after time as a leader, enforcer and advocate for a healthy environment and public health."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.