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San Francisco

Clearing the Air on Governor's Air Board
by K. Lloyd Billingsley 7/16/07

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has selected Mary Nichols, a veteran of several Democratic administrations, to head the California Air Resources Board. The pick, which requires confirmation, is being hailed by environmentalists, but senate Democrats have some questions. So should all Californians.

In a letter to the governor, senator Don Perata, Oakland Democrat, said, "the Senate will determine the extent to which she [Nichols] is both knowledgeable about the law and the law's emphasis on strong regulation over market mechanisms." They want the emphasis on regulation over the market, and odds are they will get it.

K. Lloyd Billingsley
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

Mary Nichols is a veteran of the Davis administration, in which she served as the secretary of the California Resources Agency from 1999 to 2003. She has put in stints with the EPA during the Clinton administration, the Center for Law in the Public Interest, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environment Now Foundation. In 1978, California governor Jerry Brown, now state attorney general, appointed Nichols to chair the state Air Resources Board, so in way, she has come full circle. She returns at a time of turmoil.

The governor recently fired Air Resources Board chairman Robert Sawyer, a move that drew fire from environmentalists. They want more aggressive action on AB32, the greenhouse gas measure favored by the governor. The governor also likes a cap-and-trade approach for air quality, and Nichols is on record that she is "a believer that cap and trade programs can work and can bring emissions down effectively."

Other problems may arise with public works projects, some of which the governor favors. These require the use of heavy equipment powered by diesel engines. Proposed air-quality regulations could make for delays, the construction industry says. John Dunlap, a lobbyist formerly with the Air Resources Board, said in May that "there is no Prius version of a backhoe or bulldozer that is on the market today."

This is true. The Board will have to deal with trade-offs, part of any public-policy decision. They will also have to monitor an industry in which the governor has hands-on experience, and which is churning out a lot of pollution.

Mary Nichols has been serving as director of UCLA's Institute of the Environment. Last year that Institute released a study showing that one of the leading sources of ozone and particulates is the Hollywood movie industry, which emits 140,00 tons of ozone precursors and particulates, more than any other industry in the Los Angeles area except oil refineries. The movie business, the study found, is also the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Los Angeles area.

As for overall air quality, it is a lot better than it was at the time of the first Earth Day, and getting better even in the greater Los Angeles air basin.

In 2005, the basin's worst monitor location recorded 69 exceedences of the eight-hour ozone standard, with a peak ozone level of .173 ppm. In 2006 there were only 59 exceedences at that location, and a peak ozone level of .156 ppm. See PRI's latest Index of Leading Environmental Indicators for full details.

Meanwhile, environmental regulators tend to dislike cars, which working Californians still depend on heavily, and pay more than $3 a gallon to fuel, the highest prices ever. In the early 1990s Mary Nichols touted a price of $5 a gallon for gasoline. Someone might ask her about that in confirmation hearings this week. CRO

copyright 2007 Pacific Research Institute




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