Gino DiCaro

Major changes within Cal EPA's Air Resources Board

By Gino DiCaro, VP, Communications

Capitol Update, July 13, 2007 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

Last week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fired Robert Sawyer, the Chairman of the State Air Resources Board.  His dismissal was followed quickly by the resignation of Catherine Witherspoon, the Board's Executive Director.  Sawyer was appointed Chair in early 2006 and this position serves at the pleasure of the Governor (it is not for a specified term).  

With accusations in the air concerning undue interference in the operations of the Board (and specifically the implementation of AB 32, The Global Warming Solutions Act, Chapter 488, Statutes of 2006, Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles) by the Governor's staff, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee Chair, Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) held a hearing last Friday, July 6, on the unexpected actions.  Both Witherspoon and Sawyer maintained that the Governor's Administrative staff had influenced and significantly reduced the list of early action measures to the three items recently adopted by the Board.  

On the other hand, Dan Skopec, former Undersecretary of Cal EPA, now in private practice, characterized these accusations as fiction.  The hearing appeared to be more about politics and publicity as committee members expressed their outrage.  It seems likely that legislation will be introduced that changes how Board appointments are made.  Chair Hancock also threatened to subpoena Administration staff, Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer and Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy, for a future hearing.

Within days of the resignation of Sawyer, the Governor announced the appointment of Mary Nichols to head the Air Resources Board.  Nichols was a former top environmental official for Democratic Governors Jerry Brown and Gray Davis.   Nichols, an environmental policy lawyer, was chair of the Air Board under Brown and then later served as Secretary of the California Resources Agency.  In addition, she also served as U.S. EPA's Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation.  Most recently she has been serving as director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment.  Nichols appointment was immediately hailed in news releases by both the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.
The Senate Rules Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Nichols on Tuesday, July 17th.  This quick action by the committee is unusual.  Most confirmations for environmental officers are scheduled for almost a year after the appointed official has been on the job.

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