Mary Nichols may be EPA’s next boss. Here’s her vision

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 15, 2020

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols yesterday outlined her vision for EPA over the next four years. And it starts with science.

Nichols — who is widely viewed as a candidate for EPA administrator should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden defeat President Trump — described her plans for the agency during a virtual event hosted by American University and the American Lung Association.

The first priority for the next EPA chief should be restoring respect for science, including the overwhelming body of research that shows human activity is causing climate change, she said.

“The first thing, I would say, that really has to be reversed is the rejection of science and scientists,” Nichols said.

“That’s probably the single biggest scandal, I would say, and the thing that has to be addressed first,” she continued. “Until you restore the role of science at the end, make it clear that decisions are going to be based on science, you can’t recruit the kind of people that you want or keep the people you want.”

Nichols accused the Trump EPA of dismissing or silencing employees who “have impeccable credentials, who appear to have only committed the sin of being in favor of enforcing the laws.” She also criticized the hiring of political appointees who are “totally opposed to doing anything about human-caused climate change.”

Scott Pruitt, who served as Trump’s first EPA administrator before resigning under a cloud of ethics scandals, rejected the scientific consensus that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming in a 2017 interview with CNBC. His successor, Andrew Wheeler, has said he does not view climate change as an “existential threat” (Greenwire, March 5, 2019).

Nichols said the next EPA chief’s second priority should be restoring respect for bedrock environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act — noting that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) has filed numerous lawsuits over the agency’s alleged misinterpretation of the law.

Despite her critical view of the Trump EPA, Nichols commended the agency for continuing to punish companies that violate environmental laws and regulations.

“Really, the only good thing that you can say about EPA in the last four years is they didn’t stop enforcing existing regulations,” she said, adding, “We were able to continue to work with them when you saw instances of fraud, you know, outright abuse.”

EPA and the Department of Justice have taken some major enforcement actions under the Trump administration. That includes the announcement last year that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV would pay $500 million to settle allegations that it violated the Clean Air Act by cheating on auto emissions tests (Greenwire, Jan. 10, 2019).

Nichols did not directly address speculation that she could be considered for EPA administrator in a Biden administration (Climatewire, Aug. 27).

In addition to Nichols, other people mentioned for the job include Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who ran for president with a heavy focus on climate change, and Heather McTeer Toney, a former EPA Region 4 administrator and former mayor of Greenville, Miss., who is now national field director for Moms Clean Air Force.

Yesterday’s event was pegged to the release of “Unbreathable: The Fight for Healthy Air,” a 30-minute film about 50 years of the Clean Air Act that features Nichols and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). The film was made with support from the American Lung Association, American University and the Hanley Foundation.