Mary D. Nichols
Chair, California Air Resources Board

Mary D. Nichols has been called “the most influential environmental regulator of all time.” As chair of the powerful California Air Resources Board (CARB), she has pioneered several landmark climate initiatives, including the state’s cap-and-trade program, and worked to set stronger automative emission standards, triggering a pitched battle with the Trump Administration as it seeks to roll back Obama-era fuel economy standards and take away California’s ability to set its own pollution rules.

In this edition of Columbia Energy Exchange, host Jason Bordoff is joined by Chair Mary Nichols, the chair of CARB since 2007, a position she also held from 1979 to 1983. Over a career as an environmental lawyer spanning nearly a half century, Mary Nichols has played a key role in California and the nation’s environmental policymaking. In Mary’s extensive career as an environmental lawyer and policymaker, she founded the LA office of the Natural Resources Defense Council as a senior attorney, served as Executive Director for the Environment Now Foundation, served as the Assistant Administrator of Air and Radiation in the Clinton Environmental Protection Agency, worked in private practice, among many other distinguished roles. Mary is a graduate of Yale Law School and serves on the faculty at the UCLA School of Law.

 

transcript

[00:00:03]
Jason Bordoff:  Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange, a weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.  I’m Jason Bordoff.  Nearly 70 years ago, the polluted air over Los Angeles became so thick, residents complained of burning eyes and lungs and feared they were suffering a gas attack in the midst of World War II.  It took a Dutch chemist working at Caltech, using his equipment for analyzing pineapples to discover a new kind of air pollution, smog, that resulted from automobile exhaust reacting with LA’s sunshine.

California began taking steps to respond in 1966, it set the nation’s first tailpipe emission standards and a year later it created the California Air Resources Board known as CARB.  Ever since, California has led the nation in environmental regulation, from cars to appliance efficiency standards, to carbon regulations like cap and trade and much more.  And no one has been more influential to California’s environmental policy making, perhaps the nation’s environmental policy making, than my guest today, Chair Mary Nichols.  She has served as chair of CARB since 2007, a position she also held from 1979 to 1983.

In her extensive career as an environmental lawyer and policy maker, Mary founded the LA office of the Natural Resources Defense Council as a Senior Attorney.  She served as Executive Director for the Environment Now Foundation, served as the Assistant Administrator of Air and Radiation in the Clinton EPA, worked in private practice among many other distinguished roles.  Mary is a graduate of Yale Law School and she serves on the faculty at the UCLA School of Law.  Chair Mary Nichols, thank you for joining us for the first time on Columbia Energy Exchange, it’s really a privilege to have you with us.

[00:01:55] 
Mary Nichols:  It’s a pleasure to be here.

[00:01:56]
Jason Bordoff:  In preparing for this I was reading some -- various profiles of you.  I saw our friend Ralph Cavanagh from NRDC refer to you as the most influential environmental regulator in history.  You will modestly demur, but that does not sound like hyperbole.

[00:02:10]
Mary Nichols:  I saw that Ralph had said that, well he is known for being a little over the top sometimes, but he’s also a former colleague at NRDC.

[00:02:20]
Jason Bordoff:  I think that probably sounds about right so, it really is a pleasure to have the chance to spend time with you, we will not have enough time to get to everything I would love to get to about what’s happening in California today, what the future of decarbonization and meeting our climate challenge looks like and your fascinating career.  If I could start though, I would like to start with just some reflections on the historic moment we are in now, not just a pandemic, but also a moment of awakening for the nation when it comes to issues of racial injustice.  We were just chatting before we started about your early involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, registering voters in the south, you even attended the March on Washington in 1963.

With that perspective I’m very interested in how you’re thinking about this moment, does it seem similar to the opportunity of the 60s that led to landmark legislation or the strife of the late 60s, what are you hopeful and optimistic about or concerned about with what we’re seeing right now.

[00:03:18]
Mary Nichols:  Well, it’s hard not to see parallels everywhere to what was happening in 1968 and what led up to that horrible year, in 2020.  It is a time, but even bigger because of the global aspect of it, although there was some, certainly some European activities going on around civil rights and the environment in those days, but it felt like a very American – very American instead of what is now, I think a much more international set of crises that are all happening at the same time.

And in some ways I have been thinking that it shows how easy it is to go backwards or feel like you’re going backwards, because I can turn on one of my music systems and listen to Nina Simone talking about, how black cops, how white cops treat black citizens and it's exactly the same message as we’re hearing today.  And at the same time, I think everybody who has lived through this period knows that many institutions did a lot of things to try to improve their diversity, to improve overall awareness of their roles in their communities.

Columbia being one of them, Yale where I went to school and Cornell where I was an undergraduate, all implemented serious efforts to bring more students of color and more – create scholarships, create pathways and some of that worked in the sense that there are more African American doctors, lawyers, businessman, investors et cetera, than they were in those days, but it did not change the underlying conditions.

And so, it’s time that that situation be revisited and the moment seems to have come when there is an opportunity to do that.  I think the biggest change and opportunity is the realization, on the part of people who primarily are interested in environmental issues or who have energy as part of their portfolios, that there is a connection here between public health and theses issues and that the same thing is that caused communities to be isolated and over policed and under resourced also lead to them having worse environmental health outcomes.  

And sometimes there’s even a direct connection between how people endure something like the coronavirus and the environmental pollution that they have suffered on a day to day basis, the underlying incidence of asthma and so forth so, in that sense there’s a recognition of everything being connected and the convergence which I think is -- you can’t push it to the point where everything is about everything, but I think it helps to create some opportunities for people and organizations that really haven’t been players on issues like police reform to recognize that they have a role to play here too.

[00:06:57]
Jason Bordoff:  And that I think, you tell me, I wasn’t there, that is kind of different, I mean you mentioned the racial strife of ‘68, that was right around the time, 1970 of the first Earth Day which we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of, and the environmental movement galvanized one out of every 10 Americans, came out into the streets for rallies and protests, but it was disconnected I think, from the Civil Rights Movement, and you’ve often heard the environmental movement called -- that it’s white.  The push we’re seeing now for climate action is much more interwoven, you tell me if you agree, into issues of justice including racial justice and inequality.  Do you see that, and what effect do you think that might have on the ability to make progress for climate mobilization?

[00:07:39]
Mary Nichols:  Well, I happen to live in a neighborhood in Los Angeles which is very close to the residence of the Mayor, to the official of Mayor’s house so, it was one of a number of sites that, protest were taking place over the last 10 days or so, and it was really striking to see that the complexion of the people who were marching was just about reflective of the demographics of the city, in the sense that there was predominantly white and, younger.

Although there were twenty and thirty something’s with baby carriages and dogs, sometimes both or one or the others, so whole families out there marching, and there were also young people of color and it looked as though mostly they had come with their own families or their own group of closest friends, but they were all there together and it was clearly not just black people there talking about the injustices that are being committed on black residents of the city.  And of course, in this city the total population African American in the city of Los Angeles is maybe seven, eight percent something like that.

So, the city has just become a more diverse place, in the sense that the white community, I suppose I call them white because they weren’t black, but they’re, there were also people clearly Asian or Latino as well so, it was definitely more reflective of the overall complexion of the city.
[00:09:36]
Jason Bordoff:  And one of the things about that Earth Day in 1970, I spoke recently on this podcast with people you know well, Gina McCarthy and Bill Reilly, reflecting back on the history of the environmental movement since then it didn’t breakdown in the same way we see today along partisan lines, it was Americans across party, urban and suburban coming together, saying we’ve kind of had enough, American's can’t live this way anymore with air we can’t breathe, with water we can’t drink or fish in or swim in.  You've worked with Governors in both parties, politicians in both parties, what do we need to do to build that kind of consensus, why is climate change so hard? 

[00:10:16]
Mary Nichols:  Well, first of all although, you’ve read and heard and I’m sure spoken on your program about how divided America is and how everything becomes partisan so quickly and that’s certainly is a distressing trend especially stand by the fact that we all watch our own separate, media, get our news from our own favorite sources and there’s very little connection there, but all the polling that I see suggests that while environmental concerns depending on how you ask the question are less among people who are self-identified as Republicans, they’re not nonexistent and, at all -- 

[00:11:01]
Jason Bordoff:  It’s trending up for both parties, right.

[00:11:03]
Mary Nichols:  Yeah, and there’s also a much greater trend in the direction of people simply not identifying with a party at all so, here in California party registration is Democrat, then decline to state, then Republican.  Republicans are the third party, not the second party, that’s something that’s just happened in the last relatively few years, although the trend has been building over time, but that flip really only happened in the last couple of years.

And I think there is a sense that there are issues that we have to find ways to work on in a bipartisan fashion and I believe that the environment is one of those where it’s at least more possible that you can get people to agree that yeah, nobody wants to be breathe bad air or drink unsafe water, there are issues about how you get to those things, but there always were. I mean the fact that we had legislation that passed, in the early 70s and garnered support from both parties, doesn’t mean that there weren’t big fights about getting the actual language of those bills together.

And it was only driven by the fact that there were these protests going on in the street.  So, I think you would see something similar happen, if Congress ever seriously turns its attention again to climate change.

[00:12:33] 
Jason Bordoff:  Yeah, and well perhaps some of the marches in the streets and Greta Thunberg on the cover of Time or steps toward building that kind of pressure.

[00:12:41]
Mary Nichols:  Right.

[00:12:42]
Jason Bordoff:  The other part of the moment we’re in of course is the pandemic and I’m wondering what we've seen this drop in energy use, this drop in emissions and maybe that will bounce right back as the economy recovers, but what do you think some of the lasting impacts for energy environment of COVID-19 might be?

[00:12:59]
Mary Nichols:  Well, first of all, I saw just today, that in London the CO2 emissions have bounced right back again, as things have opened up, and I certainly can just see that, looking, driving on the freeways and looking at the traffic so, yeah it’s a – I don’t see a permanent change occurring because of the period in which we were basically shot down, but I do see some permanent changes in terms of how people think about, whether they want to spend their time risking their lives and health and driving to work.

The trend towards working at home, I think is real and I think it’s permanent because so, many people have discovered, so many employers have discovered that they actually can function with most of their people operating remotely most of the time, and that that could save them a lot of money on real-estate so the big loser and that is going to be the commercial real estate industry.

[00:14:05]
Jason Bordoff:  Well, we just published a paper about what this will mean for China reaching some alarming conclusions that we’ll see by the end of the year, it’s next five year plan done, that’s an important document for the outlook for emissions and coal use in particular in China, and you see some signs they are aiming to re-boost their economy by doubling down on carbon intensive heavy industry, that when economies are hurting people ratchet back the level of environmental ambition.  And you’re facing some pressure to slow the pace of changes and things like car standards or advanced truck standards in response to the economic downturn, is that a risk?

[00:14:39]
Mary Nichols:  Well, I was on a meeting – in a meeting, on a meeting, on Zoom last night, until very late last night that included people from Europe, from New Zealand, Canada, China all of whom have adopted cap and trade market based programs for dealing with CO2 and the Chinese representative who is a high level official in the environmental agency, was talking about how they are moving forward with their program, which only covers the electricity sector to begin with so, it’s not an economy wide cap and trade program like the one that we have in California, or that Quebec has, but it’s a very big and serious program that builds on some pilots that they’ve done before.

And his comment was that, although they have slowed down some in terms of pulling the trigger on actual enforcement of the program, they’re using that time mostly to educate local officials and regional officials about how this system works.  So, is it ambitious enough to meet all of the needs for the Paris, no, it’s absolutely not, on the other hand it’s a huge undertaking for China and I was very pleased to hear and, he wasn’t – this was a meeting, in fact I suppose, I shouldn’t even say it because the meeting itself was supposedly under charterhouse rules –

[00:16:28]
Jason Bordoff:  Chatham House rule.

[00:16:30]
Mary Nichols:  Chatham House rule, right.  So, but I'm not quoting him by name, and he didn’t give any dates and I’m -- so, I think I’m probably within the general realm of keeping -- of honoring that rule by saying that what we learned was that China is moving forward and that was great to hear.

[00:16:52]
Jason Bordoff:  That’s encouraging.  And you mentioned California’s own cap and trade system, I know one of the things that’s been in the news there recently has been that when you have a sharp drop in emissions from an external shock like COVID-19, emissions plummet and the cap isn’t that tight, auction revenue may be down quite sharply this year, which goes to things like clean technologies and disadvantaged communities.  What’s the plan to deal with that and I know the European Union ETS has a market stability reserve to try to deal with -- to adjust the cap when necessary is that something that maybe needed in situations like this is California?

[00:17:29]
Mary Nichols:  It doesn’t exist at the moment, but it is under discussion, the legislature is very interested in how to even out the revenue, we’ve had dramatic drop offs in auction revenues in the past also associated with great uncertainty on the part of people who have to bid on allowances, who have to hold allowances, in terms of their not needing to buy and or just being concerned that the program might change dramatically and things bounce back again promptly and I expect that that will happen here.  

But, I think, what’s more interesting in terms of the California program is that, we are just beginning work on a new scoping plan which is the framework document that we use to guide our efforts towards reaching the goals.  The next document is due to be completed in 2022, and it is intended to show how we’re going to reach the 2030 goal which is a 40% rollback by 2030, below – I’m sorry 40% below 1990 emissions levels by 2030 is the current statutory goal.  

So, in addition to looking at revenue issues, the legislature and we are looking at how does this program get us beyond 2030 to the Paris goal, to the goal that’s embodied in an executive order in California which states that by 2045, California will become carbon neutral.  All of these things are on the table, we can talk about possible ways of doing it, but I can’t tell you that there’s even a proposal at the moment.

[00:19:25]
Jason Bordoff:  And when – I get –California passed that in 2006, you came in a year later to design and implement it and I would imagine you suspected around then the Federal Government might soon follow suit with something like cap and trade.  Of course that didn’t happen so, 14 years later, how far can California sort of continue to go with the an unsupportive Federal Government and even with a Biden administration, climate legislation in Congress is going to be tough.

[00:19:53]
Mary Nichols:  Well, when the California legislature passed and Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB32 which was aimed at reaching the then UN goal of the Kyoto Accord and was obviously far from where we know we need to go today, it was with an explicit statement, that California hoped to lead the country in setting a target and beginning to show how you could reach it, but that we fully expected and hoped, that by doing this we would also be encouraging Congress to act and as you correctly pointed out that didn’t happen.  

A lot of other things have changed, not all of them bad in the sense that partly as a result of our efforts we’ve had many other states that have joined some or all of our efforts including 19 states that are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance which explicitly is working to implement the U.S. commitments to the Paris Agreement.  But also even in states that don’t have legislated climate goals, there has been progress in a number of areas on renewable electricity which is one of the key factors that we know, has to be a part of any kind of a reasonable climate plan.

So there’s been a lot of action that’s taken place without the Federal Government and much of it really builds from local government and state government, and now creates a platform which I think will make it much easier for Congress, to tackle this issue, when there is a new administration.

[00:21:50]  
Jason Bordoff:  And I guess one of the other things that’s changed, you passed cap and trade obviously in California, there’s some discussion about a carbon tax in DC, but market-based instruments to send a price signal and let industry and consumers figure out the cheapest way to achieve those goals.  The discussion in the environmental movement seems more skeptical of carbon pricing now, more focused on standards, mandates, government spending.  What do you think the right approach is to environmental regulation and how to provide the kind of flexibility or should we, for the private sector and how to use market forces?

[00:22:22]
Mary Nichols:  Well, first of all, I think the environmental movement isn’t unified in saying they would rather have standards and regulations, I think what’s happened is that it has become clear and I think our program in California illustrates this, is that you need both, and that they support each other.  Our cap and trade program is not responsible for delivering most of the emissions reductions.  It’s important because it sets a cap, because it requires disclosure and it requires thinking on the part of sectors that are subject to it.  

And it has incidentally also raised some revenue which has now become extremely interesting to legislators who previously didn’t really know or care that much about the climate program.  At the same time we’ve seen how regulations, including our renewable portfolio standard, the low carbon fuel standard, and the thing is that, those programs are far more important individually in their areas in terms of having changed corporate behavior.

So it’s very hard to say for – let’s say someone who is operating an oil refinery in California, whether it’s the fact that they have to buy allowances and think about, whether they have enough and how much they cost and when to bid on them or whether its direct regulations that we have on fuel quality that they have to produce or whether it’s the cost of electricity to run it that is pushing them in the direction of looking at alternatives.  But whatever it is taken together, all of those factors are leading some of our largest corporations to say they’re much more seriously exploring being in a different business.  

[00:24:33]
Jason Bordoff:  And I guess, related to that is the flexibility that comes with something like the low carbon fuel standard, performance-based with trading versus things that go back to the ZEV mandate, technology forcing, we want to push particular technologies into the sector.

[00:24:48] 
Mary Nichols:  Right.

[00:24:49]
Jason Bordoff:  What’s the – how do you think about the right way to approach and use those different tools?

[00:24:54]
Mary Nichols:  Well, sometimes when people raise this issue, I think to myself, regulation is not a science, it’s an art.  And honestly, it depends, which tool you use depends on what the problem is, in front of you at the moment, what you think you know about what technology can do, what the people who are going to need to adopt that technology are going to need, in order to be able to adopt it, what is the political system going to be willing to accept.

And I think, those answers differ – as of we've seen, they differ with time.  But they also differ a lot in terms of where the technology is and how ready it is and who is actually doing the regulating.  So, within the United States, I don’t see that every State would ever have an identical energy policy or that we would all be working to change our fleets in exactly the same way, at the same time.  There are certain broad categories that I think we have to look at and try to optimize, but that’s one of the main reasons why having a national cap and trade program of some kind seems like such an attractive way to go about legislating a climate program is that just as with our tax system, there will be states that will be donors and there will be states that will be receivers when it comes to whatever the price of carbon or the cost of controlling carbon is going to be.

[00:26:47]    
Jason Bordoff:  And do you think, in some places, we see cities that say we're just going to ban the internal combustion engine by a certain year or Californian cities that say we're going to ban natural gas in new homes and buildings.  Given the time frame we are working with for the climate challenge, do things like that – will we and should we see more of that, do you think, those are sensible approaches?

[00:27:08]
Mary Nichols:  Absolutely, I think the buildings that we have in our cities today are big consumers and emitters.  And there is a need to address them as a separate part of our overall climate strategy, but with that or any of the sectors that we are looking at, I think, climate alone, CO2 control alone is seldom going to be sufficient to be the engine or the instigator for major change.

The reason why cities – and we have – I think now, it’s up to 30 cities in California, have adopted natural gas bans for new construction, is that air pollution in the urban areas remain such a stubborn problem and in the case of natural gas, it’s appliances that we have in our own homes that are the largest contributors to indoor air pollution.

So, you might not see just a ban on natural gas appliances only for air pollution or only for reaching climate goals, but if you look at both of them together as well as sort of an evolving idea about what cities should be like, then I think you come up with the momentum to do something like that.

[00:28:47]  
Jason Bordoff:  Do you think the – how one thinks about the role of natural gas in relation to air pollution, probably looks different in Berkeley than it does in South Asia or in emerging market countries –

[00:28:58]   
Mary Nichols:  Absolutely.

[00:28:58]
Jason Bordoff:  How do you think about the role of natural gas in a clean energy transition?  It’s obviously a somewhat a controversial issue. 

[00:29:04]
Mary Nichols:  Yeah.  Years ago, people use to always talk about how it was a bridge fuel and we had to go to the bridge fuel first in order to get from coal to zero emission, which is presumably either batteries or hydrogen fuel cells in most instances.  And in California that never really caught on as a pathway, because we never used much coal.  We did have imported coal generated electricity coming in to the Los Angeles region and so it’s not fair to say we had no coal, but we didn’t have coal being utilized within the State of California and so, the idea that if you were going to shutdown or transform one of the big plants that LA Department of Water Power, that other Southern California utilities own, that you would just replumb it for natural gas, never seemed like a very appealing option, especially given the time and cost of doing something like that, even with gas relatively cheap at that point when we first started working on this, back in 2007 or so.  

And so, actually now LA is looking at converting its largest coals plants – largest plant, really in the West as far as I know, the Intermountain Power Plant, to hydrogen, to producing hydrogen and doing it with carbon capture and reutilization and so forth.  So, I think time just leapfrogged over the advantages of natural gas, which is now very much on the defensive, I know.

But I don’t think, we know the ultimate answer yet as to where all of that gas infrastructure that we have is actually going to end up being used, because the issues are intertwined, complicated, and again politically different in different places.

[00:31:18]
Jason Bordoff:  Yeah and that maybe one of the ways to get that hydrogen or obviously blue hydrogen and green hydrogen.  I was going to ask you – I mean, when we talk about gas it was often framed in coal to gas switching and that is particularly relevant at least in the U.S. for the power sector, but how you think about the hard – so, called hard to abate sectors in heavy industry, the role of carbon capture, of hydrogen, of these new emerging technologies.  

How important are they going to be and what can the State different from the Federal Government do to advance those as – might receive a low carbon fuel standard for example, stimulate a market for synthetic fuels?

[00:31:53]
Mary Nichols:  I think it already is, yeah absolutely, it is already become a place that has been an instigator has been a – has been part of the movement towards getting new innovative ideas about how to create very low carbon or no carbon and renewable fuels.  Absolutely, it’s a – it's been a very interesting and quite impressive instrument.  

I think it was not of much interest to anybody, but the oil industry at the time.  It was going through the initial adoption process and they fought it very hard, they have now come to accept it and it has proven to be a source of revenue for a lot of innovative new kinds of fuels making – being made by all different kinds of companies and out of all kinds of different raw materials, from algae to waste to waste oil et cetera.

[00:33:04]
Jason Bordoff:  So, let’s see, we talked about electricity and heavy industry and buildings, I guess that leaves transportation and you of course are in a major war with the Trump administration over California’s right to set emission standards for cars.  How is that going to end and what are the consequences, what’s at stake?

[00:33:25]
Mary Nichols:  Well transportation is the largest single wedge in the pie of strategies or sources, I should say really, of the contributors to California’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and also, it’s the largest chunk of the emissions of air pollutants that are continuing to put California at the top of the list of places that have the most polluted areas in the country.

So, we focus really a great majority of our time on transportation, not just passenger cars and light trucks, but heavy-duty sector as well, including off-road and agricultural equipment.  These are all big pieces of the puzzle and they are all beginning to receive a lot more attention from us.  I think the way this ends is that a new administration decides to put a halt to the battle.  That doesn’t automatically restore the Obama’s standards, it’s a really complicated regulatory picture, but at least it will halt the back sliding and allow space to start working on some new standards, which I think is where we would really like to go because, we have been convinced since – well at least 2015, that the greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards that were set in the Obama years, actually should be stricter.  And so, having spent all these last couple of years fighting over just maintaining those standards as opposed to going forward has felt like a really annoying waste of time, frankly when we should have been focusing on how are we going to get to the ultra clean vehicles.

They are not even alternative anymore, because electric cars, fuel cell vehicles are here now, they are available, they are attractive, they are in the market –

[00:35:43]       
Jason Bordoff:  Not even something that many of the auto industry even wanted that rollback, right? 

[00:35:48]
Mary Nichols:  Well they – the industry took advantage of what they thought was a window of time at the very beginning of the Trump administration to try to achieve some small tweaks in a standard.  If you asked them back in 2000, would they like it if all of these standards would go away, they would probably have said, “Yes”.

But by the time the administration came out with their proposal, it was too much, it was more than industry wanted, more than was really useful and it sort of created a whole new consternation about the competitiveness of the industry.  So, yeah, it’s been a loser all around, I would say.  But meantime, we are fighting in the courts over the sort of stark of determination aside from the numbers and the technology.  

The Trump administration took the position that neither EPA nor California had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, because that topic was completely preempted in their view, by the Energy Policy Act, the act that contains the CAFE law.  So, their position isn’t that we can’t regulate for other kinds of pollution under the Clean Air Act.

It goes back to something that was really argued and lost in the Bush administration, which was that, “CO2 is not really an air pollutant and therefore EPA has no authority to regulate it under the Clean Air Act”.  The Supreme Court said that wasn’t true, the first time around – and I think, it’s – I think they should say the same thing the next time around, but of course we have a different court today.  We don’t know, exactly how this will play out in the court.  So, we have been anxious to try to work it out at the political level and through voluntary agreements with the companies, rather than waiting to get the answer from the courts.

[00:38:04]     
Jason Bordoff:  You mentioned something, I think is important, it’s – this isn’t just cars and I think what California is doing with advance clean trucks is interesting and important.  What’s your sense of the – where the technology is there, what’s possible to decarbonize trucking and back to what we talked about before, how much is that sort of deciding, say electrification is the way to go versus allowing a few different technologies to compete?

[00:38:25]
Mary Nichols:  Well, I think in the heavy-duty sector, it’s a lot more complicated because there are so many different specific applications that you are looking at and specific needs.  We certainly have thought that there was a need for a diversity of fuel types, zero and near zero, which is the term that’s usually used for compressed natural gas vehicles, and those have gotten much better, the emissions have come way down on the nitrogen oxides which used to be their bigger problem.

And so, they are proving to be more successful in the marketplace than they had then at first. In the meantime, zero emission vehicles are also coming forward for some of the heaviest applications, the big trucks that pull multiple containers of freight and push things around or for locomotives.  There is going to be a diversity of fuels and engine types and I think that’s fine as long as we are willing to recognize that the goal is to get to as close to zero as we can in each of these sectors and that there is going to be some uncertainty of even just differences for quite some period of time and we have to find ways to finance this whole turnover as well.

[00:39:58]  
Jason Bordoff:  Now, what California does is important for what the Federal Government may do, also what the rest of the world may do, it is one of the world’s largest economies and you engage with – as you – we are just saying in Zoom maybe last night, engage with regulators all around the world.  We are going to have the big UN Climate meeting, now next November, that’s an important – one of the important ones, so to speak, a stock taking agreement and if the U.S. is still part of that, we will put forward an NDC.

But it’s going to be in a very challenging environment, including the importance of U.S.-China -- the U.S.-China bilateral relationship on climate and that will be in the context of a very difficult and stained U.S.-China relationship overall.  Can you talk about what California’s role can be, should be, is, in engaging with leaders around the world on international climate cooperation?

[00:40:50]
Mary Nichols:  Under both Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Jerry Brown, California sent active delegations to the International Conferences, to the COP meetings, and we were not in the room where the countries actually negotiate, because we obviously are not allowed to do that.  But at the same time, there have been side meetings and conversations and agreements and memorandum of understanding and joint research agreements and all kinds of information sharing and political banding together that have happened over the years.  

And Paris, the Governor was there, he was treated like a rock star, as was Governor Schwarzenegger both in the early stages of that meeting and at earlier COPs, so California has this unique role because of our size and because of our global personality, if you will, which is certainly focused more on the film and music industries, but also on our coastline and our very attractive environment, that people pay attention to what’s going on in California.

And we often are referred to as a “Beacon of Hope” in places where it’s much more difficult to muster the political will to take action on environmental issues.  I think that will continue to be the case, even in the Obama years when we were certainly working much more in sync with the Federal Government and in support of their efforts to move forward on the Clean Power Plan, on a whole range of other initiatives that they were pursuing.  California still maintained a separate role, it was -- goes back I suppose, at least to the 1970 Clean Air Act Amendments, which carved out the status of California as a regulator for vehicle emissions.

But it was just a – it’s part of our role, I guess as a – as the face of the western part of the United States that’s oriented towards trading with China, being part of the Pacific Rim.  Our major industry actually is not either agriculture or entertainment, it’s logistics.  It’s all the stuff that goes in and out of our ports and airports.  So, I think, we will continue to play a role on the international stage and I think it’s one that we should accept.  

[00:44:02]
Jason Bordoff:  And finally, given how dysfunctional things in Washington seem these days, if we do have a change in the administration that is committed to climate action more strongly, what would you – what do you think should be prioritized, what do you think the key priority, most important elements of a Biden Administration climate agenda should be?

[00:44:20]
Mary Nichols:  Well, first of all, I think a key element should be to announce that there is a new Sheriff in town and that climate is going to be a part of their thinking across the board and I don’t think you can overestimate how important it is to simply hear what a President says on a topic like that.  Just as we know that hearts sank all over the globe when Trump announced that he was pulling out of Paris and that it was a terrible deal and that China had taken advantage of us.  That was at the very beginning of his administration.

And it had – it sent shockwaves all over the world.  So, there is a need for a new set of waves to be sent out saying, the United States, not only recognizes the science, but we are determined to play a role and to be a contributor and to work with others, collaborate with other nations, compete where we need to, but also to share and to go back to where we started this conversation.  The experience with COVID-19, if you needed a dramatic illustration of why not having communications and not working together literally kills people, you couldn’t have asked for a better lesson.

So, I think that’s where we start and then, we can talk about the details of which programs they work on first, but I am pretty sure that sitting down and looking at transportation policy and energy policy are going to be the key pieces of that.  I don’t think, rolling back every or rolling forward every regulation that the Trump people roll back is probably beyond anybody’s ability as to do quickly and then may even be a waste of time frankly.  But restoring the belief in science and the role of scientists in the discussion that’s going to be something that they should be doing right away.

[00:46:39]   
Jason Bordoff:   Thank you for that.  And as, you said that the details matter, we – and you've spent your career, not just championing the importance of the environment, but figuring out those details and figuring out how to implement them and design them.  So, thank you for talking with us a little bit about how you think about approaching those issues.  Thanks for your years of public service on behalf of the environment and the public health of all of us, it’s really privilege to spend time with you, this afternoon, I appreciate you making time for us.

[00:47:06]  
Mary Nichols:  It’s been a great conversation, thanks.

[00:47:08]
Jason Bordoff:   And thanks to all of you for listening.  For more information about the Center on Global Energy Policy, visit us online at energypolicy.columbia.edu or visit us on social media @ColumbiaUEngery.  Thanks again for listening, I am Jason Bordoff. We will see you next week.