Schwarzenegger backs Nichols to lead EPA

Schwarzenegger backs Nichols to lead EPA
© Greg Nash

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) heaped praise on Mary NicholsMary NicholsThe Hill's Sustainability Report: After massive Haiti earthquake, thousands await medical care With climate team taking shape, Biden weighs picks for EPA, Interior OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden reportedly selects Granholm as energy secretary | Trump administration narrows protection of habitat for endangered species | Administration rolls back efficiency standards for showerheads, washers and dryers MORE, a California air regulator being considered by President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Democrats advance tax plan through hurdles MORE's team to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

“She’s a big, big star,” Schwarzenegger told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt at a Thursday event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the EPA.

Hewitt was asking Schwarzenegger what it was like to work with Nichols, with the radio host positing she must have been “demanding.”

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“Well I hired her,” the action star said, adding that he “really hired the No. 1 expert, and Mary Nichols is fantastic.”

Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, has been an active voice in pushing back against the Trump administration as the state has repeatedly sued over a number of environmental rollbacks.

She also struck a deal with five automakers to meet mileage and emissions standards much closer to those set under the Obama administration after the Trump administration drastically weakened the standards. 

“I hope that she gets to be the head of the EPA, because she has fought with the oil companies and she has fought with the car companies. And let me tell you, what I was so impressed about with her is that she is sensitive. She's a very sensitive woman,” Schwarzenegger said.

The former governor credited Nichols with being a stellar negotiator, working with companies to clinch deals that push the industry forward while recognizing technological limitations.

“She listened to the automakers, she listened to everybody, and we made the adjustments and really brought it back,” he said, referencing the recent deal that pushed automakers beyond the Trump standards.

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Nichols has been open about her interest in the job.

"Not everybody has actually run a climate action program, or an air program for that matter. And I like working with large bureaucracies," she told The Associated Press in an interview published last week. "If they offered it, I would take it." 

Nichols is, for the most part, widely respected in environmental circles and has been called “the queen of green.” 

But some groups have recently pushed the administration to steer away from her.

A coalition of 70 left-leaning environmental and social justice groups argued in a recent letter that she had not done enough to mitigate pollution impacts for low-income communities and communities of color.

“Her inability to work well with environmental justice groups and leaders in California indicates that she is not the right person to oversee and implement climate and environmental programs for the country,” according to the letter, which was signed by a number of California-based groups along with Greenpeace, Food and Water Watch and environmental groups.