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Mary Nichols

14 June 2011
Mary Nichols
  • At the Climate Leaders Summit hosted by The Climate Group at COP16, sub-national governments present indicated the degrees to which they are leading the development and implementation of low-carbon policies. In the U.S., how do you see California’s role in advancing and developing low-carbon policies with regards to the current gridlock at the federal level?

California will continue to lead by example. We will keep pressing ahead with policies to decarbonize our fuels, our vehicle emissions and our overall economy. As businesses demonstrate and deploy the California-standard technologies, other states and their congressional representatives will take notice. They will see that there’s money to be made, money to be saved and jobs to be had in advancing cleaner and more efficient technologies.

  • California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32) has thrust California into the climate spotlight as the state prepares for the upcoming greenhouse gas cap and trade program. Which other California low-carbon policies do you see as game-changers?

Cap-and-trade is an important tool, but the base of our strength to fight climate change is our technology-forcing vehicle emissions standards. Our AB32 standards already are speeding the arrival of remarkably cleaner and more fuel-efficient cars that will save consumers an average $3,000 at the pump over the lifetime of the vehicle. You don’t have to be a Californian to enjoy these benefits because the EPA adopted our standards on a national scale. Today we’re working with federal officials on even more aggressive greenhouse standards for model years 2017 through 2025.

  • When developing low-carbon policies, in light of the current economic outlook in the United States, how do you find balance between generating environmental benefits, job creation and economic growth? What is the size of the opportunity these policies generate for business?

Everything we’re doing under AB 32 must achieve multiple benefits. Whether it’s our Renewable Energy Standard or Low-Carbon Fuel Standard, every measure must reduce global warming emissions cost-effectively, but also better public health, drive innovation in clean technologies and create new jobs and businesses. Clean technology investors tell us that AB 32 is a prime motivator for choosing to invest in California companies or to move their businesses here. In 2009, when the Great Recession bottomed out, investors poured $2.1 billion into California’s clean tech businesses. That was 60 percent of the total clean tech investment in all of North America.

  • During the regulatory development, how does the Agency engage the business community?

The Air Board routinely engages business interests throughout its rule making process. We comb through business directories and work with trade groups and suppliers to identify as many affected companies as we can. We invite them all to help shape the regulations in public workshops and keep track of proposed changes through our list serves. In developing the cap-and-trade program, we took the extra step of creating an advisory group of economic, financial and policy experts to help us pioneer that regulation.

  • California has been a stand-out leader in developing and implementing low-carbon policies, what can you say are overarching lessons-learned as international states and regions look to follow California’s lead?

Climate change doesn’t care what we think. And no matter what people may think about global warming, they fundamentally care about air quality. Most will support actions to clean the air. The source for much of the climate-altering emissions is fuel combustion – just as with smog and soot. So think of global warming as a kind of air pollution writ large. Everything we are doing under AB 32 we eventually would have had to do anyway to clean up our air.


Mary D. Nichols is Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, a post she has held since 2007.

Nichols has devoted her entire career in public and private, not-for-profit service to advocating for the environment and public health. In addition to her work at the Air Board, she has held a number of positions, including: assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Air and Radiation program under the Clinton Administration, Secretary for California's Resources Agency from 1999 to 2003, and Director of the University of California, Los Angeles Institute of the Environment. 

Her priorities as chairman include moving the state's landmark climate change program ahead, as well as steering the Board through numerous efforts to curb diesel pollution at ports, and continuing to pass regulations aimed at providing cleaner air for Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley. She values innovation, partnerships and common-sense approaches to addressing the state's air issues.

The Board now employs roughly 1,200 engineers, scientists and attorneys, with an annual operating budget of more than $860 million.

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