A name familiar to clean-car advocates has reportedly made the shortlist to lead the Environmental Protection Agency for the incoming Biden administration.
Mary Nichols, currently head of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), was one of the names recommended to the Biden campaign for the EPA administrator post during the last stages of the election, Bloomberg reported in October—with renewed interest in recent days, given the reality of a President-elect.
Other candidates reportedly included environmental-justice advocate Heather McTeer Toney of Mississippi, National Wildlife Federation CEO Collin O'Mara, former Connecticut regulator Dan Esty, former Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, and current Washington Governor Jay Inslee—who campaigned against Biden in the Democratic presidential primaries as the "climate candidate."
Uber self-driving prototype in San Francisco
As head of CARB, Nichols has worked to advance ever more aggressive emissions-reduction policies in California, setting an example for the rest of the nation.
Nichols is also expected to step down from CARB at the end of the year, and she was runner-up for the administrator post in 2008. Bloomberg reported just before the election that, if Biden won, the job was Nichols' if she wanted it, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter.
At the time, Nichols said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg that the Trump administration had "torn gaping holes in the fabric of this country's environmental protection laws," and that fixing those holes would require "an all-hands-on-deck approach from every citizen." While she said she was "ready to do my part," she did not directly address the administrator post.
Mary Nichols, chief, California Air Resources Board
The next EPA administrator will indeed have a tough job to restore the credibility of the agency.
Andrew Wheeler, the current administrator, has in some respects been a bigger foe to clean-air advocates than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general known for suing the EPA 13 times before being appointed to run it.
Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist and calls himself a "conservationist" rather than an environmentalist. Rather early in his tenure, he said that electric cars were "not grounds for concern" at the EPA.
Like many actions within the Trump administration, Wheeler's messaging has been confusing at face value. He fought stricter air quality rules, and moved to remove California's emissions authority, while also claiming that the state is failing in its duties laid out in the Clean Air Act.
Nichols, on the other hand, believes strongly in moving to electric and electrified vehicles and had previously supported the idea that all new cars should be zero-emission by 2030.
Although that's been walked back somewhat, California Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed a ban on sales of new internal-combustion cars by 2035.