Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday appointed Mary Nichols, a former top aide to Gov. Gray Davis, as chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board after the agency's two top leaders resigned.
Schwarzenegger ousted the previous chairman, Robert Sawyer, about a week ago. The executive officer, Catherine Witherspoon, resigned Monday. Both say top aides to Schwarzenegger interfered in their work and tried to undermine implementation of the state's landmark global warming law.
Nichols headed the state Resources Agency under Davis and has worked closely with Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy,
who also worked in the Davis administration. Witherspoon and Sawyer
said Kennedy sent mixed signals about global warming and often intervened on behalf of businesses that want to weaken the law.
Nichols, 62, also served an earlier stint as chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board under former Gov. Jerry Brown. She later served in the Clinton administration. Most recently, she has been director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Witherspoon said Nichols was a good choice to lead the agency.
"She knows everything there is to know about air quality," Witherspoon said. "She knows and respects the staff and they feel the same about her. And she has the personal fortitude to step into the climate quagmire."
John White, a lobbyist for several environmental organizations agreed.
"I think she can restore trust and confidence in ARB, if the governor and his staff give her their full support," he said in a statement.
The upheaval at the board has been an embarrassment for Schwarzenegger, who has been depicted around the world as a champion for the environment.
In a statement issued Tuesday, he said improving air quality was among the most important environmental issues facing California and
called Nichols "a real powerhouse" to lead that effort.
On Friday, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, a Berkeley Democrat, will hold a hearing to look into the resignations. Sawyer and Witherspoon have
agreed to testify.
One question the committee may also delve into is why Witherspoon's computer mysteriously stopped working over the weekend. She said she came to work to download her resume but could not get into the system. She said computer technicians concluded after several hours of trying to get it to work that someone must have tampered with it.
Democrats say they will ask for the computer to be turned over as part of their investigation.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, praised the appointment of Nichols but said the administration must do more to show it is committed to putting teeth into the global warming law.
"That will also require a commitment from the rest of the Schwarzenegger administration to stop activities seen as undermining the gold-standard global warming legislation we approved," Nunez said in a statement. "Those activities, along with steps that can ensure the independence and effectiveness of the Air Resources Board, will continue to be the focus of my oversight hearing on (Friday)."
Schwarzenegger said he would not allow Kennedy and another aide
sought by Nunez's committee, Cabinet Secretary Dan Dunmoyer, to testify. Instead, he invited Nunez to his smoking tent to air his concerns privately.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)