Environmental justice groups block Mary Nichols’ path to EPA

As a result of four governors, two Obama terms and the Trump administration, Mary Nichols has led the demand to thoroughly clean up California’s smog and fight climate adjust. In the approach, she has earned herself a reputation as a single of the most influential environmental regulators in the state.

So with Joe Biden headed to the White House, it was no shock that Nichols swiftly emerged as his leading applicant to guide the Environmental Security Agency.

But Nichols, who cultivated a nationwide standing as chair of the California Air Assets Board, seems now to have experienced her nomination derailed by critics at home. On Thursday, news broke that Biden experienced picked Michael Regan, the top rated environmental regulator in North Carolina, to run the EPA, creating him the initial Black guy to head the agency as the president-elect guarantees to assemble a varied Cupboard that will “look like The usa.”

In deciding on Regan, Biden acceded to pressure from progressive activists and annoyed Democratic moderates, who considered Nichols to be the most competent prospect for the position.

California environmental justice advocates, who have battled in opposition to her for a long time, campaigned fiercely in opposition to her candidacy and, in the very last handful of months, enlisted nationwide allies. Far more than 70 teams wrote to the Biden changeover team this thirty day period alleging that Nichols experienced championed policies that disproportionately harm very poor and underserved communities.

“She is not in good shape to guide an EPA that values environmental justice,” they wrote.

Nichols did not reply to a request for comment.

Extra than any other local climate plan she has pursued, Nichols’ position in championing California’s cap-and-trade software has angered environmental justice teams.

When the application debuted in 2013, it was viewed as California’s premier climate policy. It was the 1st of its type in North The us and had the assistance of most key environmental teams. Built to help the state fulfill its purpose of minimizing greenhouse fuel emissions to 1990 concentrations by 2020, the plan employed a market place-based procedure that set an yearly restrict, or a cap, on approximately all of the state’s emissions.

Polluting industries could fulfill this prerequisite, which would tighten above time, by reducing their emissions or purchasing condition-auctioned permits that allowed them to proceed emitting world-warming gases. The revenue created by these auctions would be invested in new technology to further more lessen emissions, these types of as installing solar panels on apartment buildings in reduced-earnings neighborhoods.

Carbon emissions in California fell. In point, the state met its objective in 2016, four many years ahead of program.

It is unclear, on the other hand, how massive a role cap and trade played in those people reductions. In accordance to an examination by ProPublica released very last year, emissions from the state’s oil and fuel field have risen 3.5% considering that the application began.

Critics of cap and trade say that it enables polluters to get their way out of having to modify their conduct. To Californians residing around ports, oil refineries and rail yards, the application appeared designed for the advantage of the fossil gas sector. Meanwhile, inhabitants in their communities have been however having difficulties with smog and high asthma charges.

“It was all about abandoning pollution in really impacted communities and planting trees in Nebraska,” said Jane Williams, director of California Communities Versus Toxics. “The offsets weren’t serious. You acquired air pollution reductions in Quebec, but how does that enable my people in South L.A.?”

Cap and trade wasn’t Nichols’ invention. The notion of putting a cost on carbon emissions to deal with climate adjust has been adopted by dozens of governments globally, either as cap-and-trade packages or as taxes on coal, oil and gasoline.

But when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger selected Nichols to direct the Air Means Board in 2007 — her 2nd stint as the state’s top rated cleanse-air regulator — it became her task to design and style the plan. This, as effectively as several of the other weather insurance policies she carried out, turned her into an environmental celeb. It also ensured her legacy would be tied to a controversial experiment.

Supporters of Nichols claimed progressive groups had seized on her candidacy as a way to convey consideration to the flaws of cap and trade, when disregarding her other contributions.

“There’s no one particular who’s accomplished as considerably as she has on greenhouse fuel reduction or on requirements pollutants — no one,” mentioned Air Resources Board member Hector De La Torre. “She’s being punished for a plan course that she did not produce. And to me, that’s just unfair on its face.”

Beneath Nichols’ leadership, the agency has pioneered a vary of climate and clean up air initiatives that goal to slash greenhouse fuel emissions throughout industries. It has approved sales mandates to boost the range of electric automobiles on the highway and set a low-carbon fuel typical for autos and vehicles.

This calendar year by yourself, the board permitted new thoroughly clean-air mandates masking hefty-duty diesel vans and cargo ships and set a groundbreaking requirement that extra than 50 percent of all vehicles marketed in the state ought to bezero emission by 2035.

The landmark truck rule was “extremely important” for environmental justice, said UCLA environmental law professor Ann Carlson. A person of the most significant wellness complications that lousy, predominantly Latino and Black communities facial area is air pollution from diesel vehicles on closely trafficked freeways.

“To one out cap and trade as the only point Mary Nichols has performed is just improper,” Carlson claimed. “There’s coverage after coverage following plan on both local weather modify and air air pollution.”

These polices set California at the forefront of national local climate policy and received praise from environmentalists across the United States.

But environmental justice groups in California felt their enter had been disregarded. In their see, the Air Sources Board wasn’t going swiftly plenty of to tackle area community wellness difficulties, such as bad air quality in communities around intensely industrialized parts and freight corridors.

Underneath Nichols, the agency had “failed to be responsive to the wants and petitions of environmental justice communities,” they wrote to the transition staff.

“The practical experience has mainly been that Ms. Nichols has not meaningfully engaged or listened to CEJA’s member and spouse organizations’ issues,” claimed Gladys Limón, govt director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “And the insurance policies she’s superior have been deeply flawed and exacerbated racial inequities.”

Nichols, 75, a previous environmental attorney, was very first appointed to direct the Air Sources Board in 1979 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

She next labored at the All-natural Sources Protection Council, in which she launched the organization’s L.A. office environment, and as assets secretary for Gov. Grey Davis. Beneath President Clinton, she served for four a long time as assistant administrator for the EPA’s Business of Air and Radiation, which oversees pollution regulations.

Nichols’ term as chair of the Air Means Board expires at the stop of the year.

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