As chair of the California Air Resources Board, Liane Randolph helms the state’s lead agency for climate change programs, putting her center stage on one of the hottest issues of the day.
It puts her in a delicate position. “With climate change, you want to move fast,” she said. “But if you want to do it in a way where people have a say and where it is affordable, you need to be more patient and deliberative.”
The biggest challenge of the job is balancing competing interests, she said. While California’s move away from fossil fuels provides a lot of opportunity for new technology and new jobs, caution is still needed. “We have to do it in a way that doesn’t send electricity rates through the roof, doesn’t increase costs for people’s everyday lives too much and allows input from communities, stakeholders and residents who have concerns,” she said.
Randolph, 57, was appointed to the position by Gov. Gavin Newsom two years ago and is the first black person to hold the job. The Oakland resident served as a member of the California Public Utilities Commission from 2015-2020. She also served as deputy secretary and general counsel at the California Natural Resources Agency from 2011-2014. She was chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission from 2003-2007.
“We have to do it in a way that doesn’t send electricity rates through the roof, doesn’t increase costs for people’s everyday lives too much and allows input from communities, stakeholders and residents who have concerns,” she said.
Raised in a military family, Randolph lived all over the country as a child, spending time in the South, Southern California and the Washington, D.C. area, where she graduated from high school. After graduation, she returned to California for college, earning first a bachelor’s degree in history, and then a law degree from the University of California at Los Angeles.
Randolph’s decision to study law came from her interest in government. As the child of two government workers (dad in the military, mom working as a teacher), she thought public policy would be a good career path. “I saw potential for the government to do good things,” she said.
In law school, she met her husband, who got her interested in the outdoors. He took her camping for the first time and to Yosemite National Park for the first time. “I am much more outdoorsy now than when I grew up,” she said.
The couple has hiked around Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and still enjoys taking backpacking trips. They have two adult children.
For fun, Randolph enjoys reading every night – from the latest important nonfiction thought piece to books about Oakland to entertaining mysteries. Lately, she has been enjoying the political thriller “State of Terror” written by Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny.
Early in her career, Randolph worked for several law firms, including one in the Bay Area that represented local government. “I worked for cities that had land use decisions to make- important issues about how towns are developed,” said Randolph, who eventually became San Leandro City Attorney. “It was a good introduction to key issues in California around growth- making sure people have places to live but also trying to protect the things we enjoy about California.”
Randolph said she is supportive of new California land-use laws that take some control away from local governments. “Local governments need to have not just local issues in mind,” she said. “If we are going to meet our climate and housing goals as a state, infill housing, renewable energy and transmission and other projects to tackle climate change need to be approved. Where there is a need for the state to ensure processes that will further those goals, I am in support of the state stepping in.”
Now at the California Air Resources Board, Randolph is excited about the state’s goal of phasing out sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035. When people question whether the state has the infrastructure to switch to electric cars, she points out that the state doesn’t have to solve every problem immediately “As long as we can have a path to solving the various issues, we can get there,” she said.
California can serve as a model for the rest of the nation because it has such a variety of landscapes, she says. It has desert lands, mountain landscapes and places where it snows a lot, and all can be thoroughly tested with electric cars.
“The state continues to work with utilities to ensure reliability using new, clean generation capacity, backup generation and newer strategies like demand response programs. And the (California Public Utilities Commission) also has proceedings to ensure that utilities are addressing customer needs during severe weather events.”
The California Air Resources Board recently approved a 297-page scoping plan to clean up the air; including adding more electric cars. Currently, only 2.3 percent of the state’s 29 million cars, or about 837,000 are zero emission.
“If we do it right, we will save thousands of lives, reduce economic inequality, and begin to repair the harm that low-income communities and Californians of color disproportionately suffer for the sake of oil companies’ profits,” Dave Weiskopf, senior policy advisor with NextGen Policy, a progressive advocacy group, was quoted as saying in CalMatters. “If we do it wrong, we risk perpetuating those injustices for generations to come.”
Randolph is not worried about California’s recurring problems with power outages, such as the major outages experienced this month during heavy storms. “Resiliency is an important goal for the state,” she said. “The state continues to work with utilities to ensure reliability using new, clean generation capacity, backup generation and newer strategies like demand response programs. And the (California Public Utilities Commission) also has proceedings to ensure that utilities are addressing customer needs during severe weather events.”
She added that even gas stations don’t work in a power outage.
For a few days in the summer, when temperatures are especially hot, the state may have to ask residents to charge their electric cars in the morning and not in the afternoon, she said.
In addition to pushing for electric cars, the California Air Resources Board is doing a great job with some smaller steps to clean the air, Randolph said. Among the smaller steps she is proud of include the state’s coming ban on gas-powered leaf blowers and the new smog check rules for trucks, which include bringing portable units out to test trucks on the road.
“There’s so much that the governor and legislature has done to set and support these goals through investments and being supportive of the work,” Randolph said. “It’s huge. When I go to other states and countries, they see California as a leader in creating a new clean economy.”