When it comes to clean air, California’s Air Resources Board is dirty

(a blog written Aug.20, 2007 by Judy Dugan )

When Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed former California Air Resources Board director Mary Nichols last month to head the same agency in his administration, reaction in the enviro world was mostly relief, tinged with worry: Could she stand up strongly to the governor and enforce the state’s new global warming emissions law? But now we find that the influences on Nichols are closer to home. She has extensive stock holdings in Big Oil, and a husband who represents Exxon in the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation.

To recap, Nichols was appointed after Schwarzenegger fired the board’s strongly committed president, Robert Sawyer, and its executive director quit under administration meddling to weaken air quality rules. A legislative hearing had hinted the governor was consulting with Big Oil about how to slow down enforcement of the state’s greenhouse gas law.

Now we find that Nichols apparently took the job with no intention of shedding her oil investments, possibly millions of dollars’ worth. From the AP story:

“Nichols’ holdings include shares in Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, BP PLC, a Bermuda shipping company that transports crude oil and the world’s largest coal company, Peabody Energy Corp.

“Five of the investments, including the Chevron stock, are worth as much as $1 million, according to a financial disclosure report Nichols filed recently with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.”

Our Take:
CARB is the same organization that some Minnesota lawmakers want to set clean air standards for Minnesota? Mary Nichols, the spouse of the Exxon Valdez lawyer (Exxon has yet to pay a nickel in damages for the ecological disaster that has cost Alaska’s fisheries billions) is an ‘environmental lawyer’? A woman who owns more than a million in oil stocks runs a clean air agency?

To say that Mary Nichols is conflicted seems to be the understatement of all time.

The reasons for CARB’s adamant anti-ethanol position and its recent questionable rulings on diesel become clearer when we see that the director of this agency gains or loses wealth, potentially, in its every decision.

Of course CARB would oppose broader use of ethanol in California, because it would mean less marketshare for Exxon, Chevron and Shell, which are all part of Nichol’s portfolio.

Of course, CARB would push for expensive retrofits of diesel trucks in order to reduce NOx and PM 2.5 when adopting a biodiesel requirement would achieve the same goals—it’s proven to dramatically reduce both of those harmful pollutants.

We hope this puts to bed the notion that Minnesota should entrust its approach to clean air to such deeply conflicted political appointees—appointed by officials we did not elect, namely Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Though this conflict-of-interest information has gone untrumpeted by Minnesota’s news media for nearly three years, we are thankful to have learned about it before permanent damage was done to our highly effective clean air approach, which emphasizes farm-based renewable fuels ethanol and biodiesel.

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