Schumer backs Mary Nichols to lead Biden EPA

Source: By Geof Koss, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is pressing President-elect Joe Biden to nominate California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols to be his EPA administrator, a move that would offer a chief foe of President Trump’s environmental agenda the chance to reverse many of the previous administration’s policies.

A source with direct knowledge of the conversations confirmed this morning that “Sen. Schumer has expressed to the Biden transition team his support for Mary Nichols to lead the EPA.”

Long rumored as a candidate for the job, Nichols would bring decades of regulatory experience at the state and federal levels to the Biden administration.

She has led the California air board since 2007, when she was tapped to be the Golden State’s top environmental regulator by then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown (D) kept Nichols in the spot from 2010 to 2018, and current Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) followed suit. Her current term expires at the end of the month.

Nichols, 75, also chaired the air board under Brown from 1975 to 1982; additionally, she was appointed by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis as California secretary for natural resources from 1999 to 2003.

She also led EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation during the Clinton administration, and previously was a senior staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and led UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Schumer’s endorsement of Nichols suggests he believes she’s capable of being confirmed to what is traditionally one of the more contentious spots for an incoming administration to fill.

The “queen of green” is certain to draw fire from Republicans, but criticism may be muted somewhat by the fact she was nominated to her current job by a GOP governor.

Nichols has been a vocal critic of Trump’s EPA, leading the charge against the rollback of President Obama’s clean car standards and the administration’s targeting of the Golden State’s Clean Air Act waiver authority allowing it to set more stringent emission standards.

She declined to say in August whether she would accept the top job at EPA under Biden, but in October she laid out a vision for the agency over the next four years that includes restoring respect for science and the nation’s bedrock environmental laws (Climatewire, Oct. 15).

The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment. Other names that have been floated as potential EPA chiefs include former EPA Southeast regional director Heather McTeer Toney and Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.