President-elect Joe Biden may tap a California bureaucrat who worked to ban gas-powered cars to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, fueling opposition from some activists.
Mary Nichols has been touted as a leading candidate to head the EPA thanks to her record as chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board. In 2019, Nichols threatened to ban gasoline-powered vehicles in the state after President Trump rolled back vehicle emissions standards. In September, Nichols made headlines for her plan to transition to zero-emission vehicles in California by 2035, weaning the state off of gas-powered vehicles. As of 2018, electric-powered cars comprised only 1 percent of all vehicles.
Some activists said Biden should avoid a radical environmentalist agenda that ignores social and economic costs when addressing climate change. Robert Dillon, an adviser to the free-market environmentalist organization ConservAmerica, told the Washington Free Beacon that Nichols's record should draw bipartisan concern.
"Nichols may very likely fall into that category of exceptions, where you're going to see the majority stand together to oppose them," Dillon said. "What's your priority: virtue signaling or accomplishing sustainable policy to address climate change, even if it's incremental."
The Biden transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
Nichols has already attracted bipartisan opposition to her actions in California, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. In March, she went forward with emissions requirements on the trucking industry despite dire economic straits brought on by shutdowns. Nichols also used George Floyd's death to push her environmental agenda. In a now-deleted tweet posted the week following Floyd's death, Nichols called for climate action in supposed solidarity with protests over law enforcement.
"‘I can't breathe' speaks to police violence, but it also applies to the struggle for clean air," Nichols wrote. "Environmental racism is just one form of racism. It's all toxic. Government needs to clean it up in word and deed."
California Democratic assemblyman Jim Cooper, who is black, called Nichols, who is white, shameless for attempting to exploit Floyd's death to advance "crooked enviro policies."
How dare you use a dying man’s plea for help as a way to discuss your agenda. Have you no shame?
How dare you talk about Enviro racism when historically your policies favor your coastal elitists friends. While leaving communities of color out and left to foot the bill.
— Jim Cooper (@AsmJimCooper) June 2, 2020
Steve Milloy, who served as a Trump transition team member for the EPA, said the episode is indicative of Nichols's approach to pushing an unpopular agenda.
"She knows how to use the environment as a political weapon to advance the environmental agenda, and she will say or do anything to do that," Milloy told the Free Beacon. "If you're looking for someone to execute that left-wing agenda, Mary Nichols is a good person to do that."
Milloy said that Nichols's political instincts are not as alarming as her past interactions with China. In 2013 and 2017, Nichols met with officials from the city of Shenzhen and several Chinese state-owned auto enterprises to work together on climate change initiatives. While Nichols has hampered American industries with increasingly onerous and costly environmental regulations, China remains the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. China could use that to its advantage, according to Milloy.
"The Chinese and Russians are going to try to use our fixation on climate to their advantage," Milloy said. "If they can trick us into harming our economy by reducing emissions and giving up fracking, they are happy to go along with that and promise to be emissions-free 100 years from now."