By Les Dunseith
Mary Nichols has been a leader in California’s environmental policy for 50 years. What is the next step?
She said that my expertise as a lawyer is in how to make laws work for people. I have found a way to conduct my work that doesn’t involve being appointed to a government job to fill vacancies. You get appointed to do the job.
Nichols, who served four terms as chair of the California Air Resources Board, told a crowd of 75 people in person and others online during the April 4 UCLA Luskin lecture that getting things done requires persistence, dedication, and perhaps most importantly, good science.
Nichols cited her experience as a leader of the agency in setting gasoline efficiency and anti-pollution standards for the automotive industry.
We had our own engineers who were just as knowledgeable as the people working in the car companies. We were regulating what was available and what was affordable, such as the catalytic convert. If only you could get the companies to stop resisting change and to give up on their desire to keep what they have until it is profitable.
Nichols stated that policymakers should know what is needed and have the data to support it. This will increase your chances of getting people on board and moving forward.
Nichols is an attorney. She began her career as an environment regulator in 1970, following the federal Clean Air Act. She was first appointed to the state’s top environmental agency in 1975. She served as chair from 1979 to 1983, then 1999 to 2003 and again from 2007 through 2020. She is also an Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment distinguished counsel at UCLA Law. She has associations with the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
Dean Gary Segura of Luskin School of Public Affairs stated in his opening remarks that Mary Nichols is the best name to think of if you are interested in the environment and a long-time resident of California.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nichols’ appearance was the first Meyer-Rene Luskin Lecture Series event in person in over two years. It was held in the Charles E. Young Grand Salon, Kerckhoff Hall on UCLA’s campus.
Nichols was joined at UCLA by Tierra Williams, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Colleen CALLAH MA UP 10, coexecutive director of UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
They also discussed air pollution and the future of clean energy.
We begin with the fact that electric cars are expensive. Nichols acknowledged that electric vehicles are more expensive than gasoline cars. New gasoline-powered cars can be expensive.
She said that electric vehicles are growing in popularity, but that many people won’t buy an electric car unless the manufacturers, many who see electric cars as their future, receive incentives from the government to bring down costs.
Nichols said that otherwise, we would be looking at only a luxury market.
California is beginning to pay more attention to a similar need, making charging stations easily available.
Nichols stated that people who can afford an electric car but do not have a place where they can charge it, are not making any progress. There is still much to be done in terms of charging at work and charging in public places.
Bills pointed to the fact that historically, technological innovation has been inaccessible to disadvantaged communities.
Nichols stated that decision-makers now recognize the need for equity more often, but there are still challenges. She said that there are many ways to address the problem but it will require a lot more thinking than what has been happening up until now.
Additionally, it is important to get broad support when dealing with environmental issues.
Nichols joked that simply saying that the Air Resources Board believes you should do it isn’t going be a winning argument.
She said that regulation and innovation are important but that federal and state agencies must also look to establish partnerships at the municipal level. They should also enlist the assistance of local businesses and community-based organisations.
She recalled an example where funding was made available to improve air pollution goals through the replacement of old buses. Surprised, the government began to work with religious organizations as well as large transit agencies and school districts.
Nichols spoke of those who had old buses they wanted to get new, clean buses for their children’s field trips. Sometimes, it is necessary to find a new way to deliver services.
Callahan spoke of the growing alarm among scientists about the need to do more quickly if humanity is going to survive in the face climate change. How can one remain positive and grounded when faced with such dire predictions?
It’s not hard to do, Nichols said. You must be flexible and open to new partners. You seek out new resources. You seek out new energy. This is why I enjoy hanging around universities.
Nichols continued to gesture toward the crowd of environmental activists, faculty, staff, and students.
You get to know some people who, hopefully not only will do what I did but who will do it better.
The Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture series enhances public discussion on topics relevant for the betterment of society. It brings together scholars, as well as leaders from national and international countries to address society’s most pressing issues. Mary Nichols hosted the event, which was co-hosted jointly by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and several campus partners: UCLA Center for Healthy Climate Solutions, UCLA Center for Impact@Anderson, UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, UCLA Samueli Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge.
View photos from this event Flickr.
You can watch the lecture. Vimeo.