Nichols plans to stay California’s top climate chief through 2020

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2018

Mary Nichols will remain at the helm of California’s main air and climate change agency through 2020, according to a proposal expected to be considered tomorrow by the state Air Resources Board.

Nichols has led the agency since 2007 and has been instrumental in implementing the state’s suite of climate policies, as well as defending them against the Trump administration.

The White House is expected to propose freezing joint California-federal auto emissions standards as soon as this week, and is also expected to take comment on whether to rescind California’s Clean Air Act authority to enforce its own rules, which 12 other states have signed on to.

Nichols was appointed to her post by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and was reappointed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in 2011.

Under a 2016 law, however, the Air Resources Board has to transition to six-year term limits. The proposal due to be considered tomorrow puts forth a schedule for each of the 14 voting members to switch to term-limited tenures. Nichols would serve through December 2020, according to the proposal, along with four other members.

Five more would have their terms expire in 2022, and three terms would expire at the end of this year. The schedule means Brown’s appointees would serve well into the next governor’s term.

Environmental justice groups are raising alarm about the move, which has not been discussed publicly. Two of the first members scheduled to step down are former state Sen. Dean Florez (D) and former state Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D), both of whom occupy lawmaker-appointed slots reserved for environmental justice interests.

“The California Air Resources Board is proposing to lock in a majority of Board members through the entirety of the next Administration’s term with virtually no public discussion,” said Gladys Limon, executive director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “The make-up of the board deserves public discussion and legislative engagement, but it appears ARB is moving forward without any of those basic democratic processes.”

Florez also objected to the proposal, which he said was based on the dates of each members’ last appointment. “It’s funny how a sophisticated agency would use the unsophisticated first-in, first-out approach,” he said. “No thought, no strategic approach. I just don’t buy it.”

Agency staff said they weighed various factors in staggering the terms.

“CARB staff took into account several factors in developing the proposed plan, including the need for overlap and continuity of diverse expertise on the Board, continued representation on the Board of the diverse geographical regions in the state, and other considerations that would ensure a successful transition to staggered six-year terms,” the resolution says.

The board created a vacancy for a new gubernatorial appointment last month by shifting an existing Brown appointee, De La Torre, to a slot reserved for state lawmakers’ appointments, forcing out an environmental justice-designated member, Diane Takvorian (Climatewire, June 13). It’s unclear whether Brown will make that appointment or leave it to his successor, likely to be gubernatorial front-runner Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).