In The Field

Carbon conference: A self-fulfilling prophecy?

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the powerful California Air Resources Board, just finished discussing her states efforts to curb global warming pollution in the transportation sector. California passed its own limits on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles in 2004, but the US Environmental Protection Agency under George W. Bush has declined to issue a waiver allowing the state to proceed. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that Nichols predicted a speedy resolution once Barack Obama takes office.

“We are operating under the assumption that we will get our waiver some time next year,” she says.

Given the sheer size of the California market and the fact that some 16 states have signed on to the California proposal, it is entirely possible that the rest of the country would follow. In fact, the Supreme Court has already ruled that EPA has the authority to do just that. EPA essentially punted on the issue earlier this year, but the next administration might be more inclined to follow up on that authority as well.

As it happens, Nichols is rumoured to be on Obama’s shortlist to head the EPA, where she previously worked under President Bill Clinton. Speaking to reporters after the session, she was certainly open to the idea. Nichols said the first thing she would do if appointed EPA administrator would be to meet with the president and the rest of the agency heads to coordinate a comprehensive federal energy and climate strategy. But has she discussed the idea with the Obama transition team? No comment.

Who knows? She might one day find herself in the unique position of fulfilling her own prediction – by granting California the waiver herself.

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