No. 13: Capitol Weekly’s Top 100

Illustration by Chris Shary

13. Mary Nichols

It’s hard to overestimate Mary Nichols’ role in fighting air pollution, in California and nationally. Nichols, something of a California institution, chairs the Air Resources Board, which enforces the state’s clean-air rules and is tracked closely by the industrial Northeast, which looks to the ARB for guidance. Appointed by various governors, she’s headed the board continuously for 13 years, but she also served as chair from 1979-83, and from 1999-2003. Among its many, many chores, the ARB regulates gasoline and diesel emissions, targets factory pollution, administers the cap-and-trade auctions to curb greenhouse gases and hunts down faulty pollution control devices in vehicles — as it did with the landmark Volkswagen case. The word around the water cooler is that Nichols will retire after her term ends on Dec. 31, and board member Hector De La Torre, a former lawmaker, is being groomed to take the reins. Nichols, who has been dubbed the “Queen of Green,” is an attorney and Yale graduate, and a former lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Updated Aug. 11, 2o20

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