"I can't resist it: I'm baa-aack!"
That's what veteran environmental attorney Mary Nichols said today when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced her as his appointee to chair the troubled Air Resources Board. Nichols, currently director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment, headed the board from 1974 to 1978 and also served as resources secretary under Gov. Gray Davis.
Nichols' fellow Democrats have got to be wondering why she wants the gig.
Last week Schwarzenegger canned board Chairman Robert Sawyer in a dispute over implementing California's new greenhouse gas emissions law. On Monday, the board's executive director, Catherine Witherspoon, quit and publicly accused Schwarzenegger's senior staff of pressuring her agency to stall emissions regulations that businesses don't like. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez has scheduled a hearing for Friday to hear from Witherspoon and Sawyer, and he has suggested that he may do more than ask Schwarzenegger's top aides to testify.
Enter Nichols, who insisted to reporters that "it's just a terrific time to be coming to the Air Resources Board.
At issue is Schwarzenegger's desire for a market-based cap-and-trade system that sets an overall emissions level and then allows regulated entities to buy and sell emissions credits. Many legislative Democrats and environmentalists say that method won't work; they want plain ol' mandatory emission cuts. Not surprisingly, Nichols says she's a cap-and-trade "believer." She points to a market-based mechanism used to curb acid rain while she was an assistant EPA secretary in the Clinton administration.
But Nichols hasn't always been a big fan of Schwarzenegger or his environmental policies. In fact, she endorsed his 2006 opponent, Democrat Phil Angelides. And in 2005, she told the Los Angeles Business Journal that she'd give the governor "a mixed report card" on the environment — good marks on global warming leadership, not so good on developing water and energy policies. And she wasn't thrilled with his appointment — later overturned by the state Senate — of lobbyist Cynthia Tuck to the Air Resources Board.
"I have nothing against Cindy as a person," Nichols said, "but the state's top environmental regulatory board — one that's looked at as a model across the nation and the world — really needs somebody with proven environmental credentials at the helm."
— Cheryl Miller