09-26-07 by dugan
When longtime air-quality expert Mary Nichols took the top job on California’s Air Resources Board in July, jaws dropped when she disclosed her family stock holdings: lots of oil, coal and energy. Now she’s sold the Big Oil and coal. Congratulations. What took so long?
As the San Jose Mercury News story today on the sale noted,
"State law requires public officials to declare personal investments and sell positions in any companies they might directly regulate, or disqualify themselves from taking actions affecting those companies. Because the air board issues dozens of regulations a year on everything from smog to global warming, Nichols could have been forced to bow out of numerous decisions had she not sold her holdings."
She still has a husband who represents Exxon Mobil, defending the company against $5 billion in claims by fishermen and other Alaska businesses flowing from the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker disaster.
In a comment on this remaining oil tie, Nichols said something disturbing that trivializes the effect of oil companies on our lives:
" ‘I’ve never been asked to defend an oil spill, and I certainly wouldn’t," Nichols said. ‘What I would say, though, in general, is that this is an economy that is highly dependent on petroleum. We all know that,’ she said. ‘And I don’t view the companies that sell us the petroleum as being any more evil than the companies that sell me chocolates. I eat more chocolate than I want to, also.’ "
Nichols has a choice about eating chocolates at all, and even buying a pound a day at Trader Joe’s won’t break the family budget. Or exacerbate global warming. Or put the world’s richest corporations hand in glove with petty dictators.
Nichols’ equation of chocolate and oil, if it actually represents her broader views, is out of whack with reality. She’ll have to take the responsibilities of Big Oil and other polluting corporations a lot more seriously as head of the agency charged with enforcing California’s landmark global warming law.
Then again, taking the job seriously is what got Nichols’ predecessor fired by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. We sure hope Nichols was joking about the chocolate and has both spine and courage for the big job ahead.