Environmentalist Tapped To Lead California Air Board
SAN FRANCISCO -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named a veteran environmentalist to lead a pivotal pollution board Tuesday, hoping to defuse criticism that the state is moving too slowly on its landmark legislation against global warming.
Schwarzenegger's choice of Mary Nichols to chair the California Air Resources Board earned praise from environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense.
The governor fired chairman Robert Sawyer last week after sharply criticizing the board's vote to delay a plan to reduce smog in the state's central valley.
But on Monday, Air Board executive director Catherine Witherspoon resigned from her post, saying Schwarzenegger's staff was trying to slow implementation of the Global Warming Solutions Act to reduce carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in California by 25 percent by 2020.
"Every signal the board got from the governor's office staff was 'Slow down, don't hurt the industry, don't get ahead of us on greenhouse gases,"' Witherspoon said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.
Some lawmakers have said the shake-up -- coming as Schwarzenegger rides a wave of popularity for taking a prominent role in addressing global warming -- shows the governor's climate-change agenda is faltering amid confusion within his administration.
Nichols, a former chair of the Air Resources Board under former Gov. Jerry Brown who currently is director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Nichols also served in the Clinton administration as an assistant administrator for air and radiation for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"I look forward to working closely with her and the Air Resources Board to push for aggressive action to implement our landmark climate change law and to meet tough air quality standards," Schwarzenegger said.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez welcomed her credentials but said others in the Republican governor's administration should stop "undermining" the state law that he co-authored and convinced Schwarzenegger to sign last year.
Schwarzenegger also wants California to embrace carbon trading so companies may buy and sell pollution credits. Nichols backs the idea and may help win support from reluctant Democrats.
In a letter to Schwarzenegger, state Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata welcomed Nichols and reminded the governor he is not enthusiastic about a "cap and trade" system.