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Schwarzenegger names Mary Nichols to head Air Board

Mary Nichols, a veteran environmental regulator for President Bill Clinton and California Democratic governors Jerry Brown and Gray Davis, is the new head of the California Air Resources Board. Nichols was appointed to the job, the most important air-quality enforcement job in the nation, by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who just days before had forced the resignation of the previous ARB chairman.

Nichols’ appointment came as the governor, who has received international attention for his efforts to fight global warming, faced mounting criticism for the role of his two top aides for reportedly impeding the ARB’s enforcement of regulations to curb greenhouse gases. Ousted ARB Chairman Robert Sawyer said as much after he left, and ARB executive director Catherine Witherspoon made similar statements after she abruptly resigned two days later.

They contended that Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, and Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, pressured them to go slow in developing new carbon emission rules. Sawyer released a transcript of a call from Dunmoyer that Sawyer said was an intent to influence the board. The governor’s staff rejected the allegations.

But the quick appointment of Nichols, one of the state’s best-known environmentalists, seemed an attempt by the governor to diffuse criticism. Nichols was a ranking executive in the Natural Resources Defense Council, a former ARB chairwoman under Brown, the Cabinet-level Resources Secretary under Davis and a top air-quality regulator for the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency.

“This is really a good step to stabilizing the Air Board, said Bill Magavern of the Sierra Club. “The board has been shaken by the interference from the governor’s office. The big question is whether the governor will let Mary Nichols and the other board members do their job, instead of continuing to their micromanagement.”

The turmoil at the board and within the administration raised questions about the credibility of the administration, as well as the stability of the ARB as an institution.

“What’s troubling is the difference between the public and the private messages,”

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