Mary Nichols hopes to carry on at California Air Resources Board
Decades later, Brown is widely expected to reappoint Nichols as chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board as he pushes ahead with the state’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction policy.
“There is so much at stake in California in terms of climate change and energy policy, and there is so much need for continuity,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. “Mary is someone who is very knowledgeable about the issues and who is committed to carry out those policies.”
Nichols said she hasn’t had a formal discussion about what role she will play in the Brown administration, but she said she would prefer to remain at the Air Resources Board to oversee expansion of the board’s climate change policies.
As head of the ARB under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nichols is credited with keeping the state’s ambitious climate change policies on track, just as those policies came under attack from a rollback initiative funded largely by out-of-state oil interests.
That voters rejected the rollback measure, Proposition 23, in November by 22 points showed that the “public recognizes that we are on the right course,” she said.
Under the Brown administration, Nichols said California’s green energy and climate change policies will remain on the same course. But she noted that the agency will have to make do with less.
With the state facing a multibillion dollar deficit, there will likely be fewer staff members and less travel to international conferences in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Cancún, Mexico.
Gone are the glitzy annual governor’s global climate summits attended by heads of state, Nobel laureates and Hollywood film stars.
For Nichols, the style differences between Schwarzenegger and Brown are substantial.
The Schwarzenegger administration always has a glamorous edge to it.
Nichols recalled giving a public address in 2007 at the University of Geneva, where organizers announced her speech in banners spread across streets.
One of the Swiss newspapers ran a headline the next day saying “Schwarzenegger sends his right arm,” she said.
The incoming Democrat is a more engaging type of chief executive who will “call at almost any hour of the day or night and cross-examine you for an hour or two about some energy policy,” she said.
“He’s the the most energetic 72-year-old I’ve ever met,” Nichols said of Brown. “The hard part will be keeping up with him.”
Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior policy director for the American Lung Association of California, believes that Nichols will be up to the challenge.
“She guided the air board during a very challenging and very important time,” said Holmes-Gen. “She has a great deal of credibility … and political savvy that makes her a very strong leader.”