Claims of ‘Bleak’ Environmental Justice Record Appear to Fell a Biden Favorite

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“If I was Joe Biden and I was looking for someone to implement the green agenda, I’d pick Mary Nichols,” said Steven J. Milloy, who worked on Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. transition team and now runs a website promoting the false information about climate change. “She’s dedicated, she’s experienced, she knows the job backward and forward. I don’t agree with a single thing she does. She is a ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead’ type of environmentalist.”

Ms. Nichols, 75, was first appointed to run California’s clean air program in 1979 by Gov. Jerry Brown. In the decades since, she has been at the helm of that program as California has been at the vanguard of environmental policy, passing ambitious, first-in-the-nation measures on pollution control and conservation that have often served as models for national and even international environmental law.

During the Clinton administration, she joined the E.P.A. as its top clean air official, then returned to California, where she ran the state’s pioneer cap-and-trade climate change program under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. During the Obama administration, it was Ms. Nichols who helped broker a deal with the federal government and the nation’s largest automakers, which took California’s stringent regulations on planet-warming auto emissions and applied them nationwide. Just as Mr. Obama borrowed clean air and climate change strategies from California, Mr. Biden is widely expected to do the same.

In an interview last week, when she was still seen as a top contender for the E.P.A. job, Ms. Nichols pushed back forcefully at the contention that she has been insensitive to environmental justice issues.

“California is at the forefront of actions anywhere in the nation and the world to direct attention and funding to underfunded communities,” she said.

Ms. Nichols noted that the primary objection of environmental justice groups has been her embrace of California’s cap-and-trade policy, a system under which the state has placed a tightening cap on greenhouse emissions from stationary sources but allows companies to buy and sell permits to pollute.

Economists have said for years that the most effective way to reduce climate pollution is to put a price on emissions, thus driving the market away from pollution.

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