SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom tapped a veteran regulator Wednesday as the next chair of the powerful Air Resources Board, which implements the state’s ambitious climate change goals.
Liane Randolph, 55, will begin the job in January. She takes over for Mary Nichols, who is termed out after leading the board since 2007 and under consideration to lead the Environmental Protection Agency under President-elect Joe Biden.
Leading the California Air Resources Board is an influential job, if one not known to many members of the public.
Under Nichols’ leadership, the board has helped set national standards on tailpipe emissions, which dictate gas mileage, and battled with Washington as the Trump administration tried to roll back those rules.
Randolph is a current commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates electric, natural gas and water utilities, telecommunications and transportation companies including Uber and Lyft.
She previously worked in the California Natural Resources Agency and chaired the Fair Political Practices Commission, which oversees and enforces California’s campaign finance and political ethics laws.
At the air board, she’ll be charged with overseeing some of California’s ambitious plans to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and regulate air pollution.
Those goals include achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2045 and halting the sale of new gas-powered passenger vehicles by 2035.
The air board also oversees implementation the state’s cap-and-trade program, which regulates emissions by selling credits to pollute.
“Cleaner air is essential for California’s families and Liane Randolph is the kind of bold, innovative leader that will lead in our fight against climate change with equity and all California’s communities at heart,” Newsom said in a statement.
Randolph was not made available for an interview about her vision for the board.
Newsom, a Democrat, reappointed air board member John Balmes, who has served since 2008.
And he added three other new members: Davina Hurt, a member of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and a Belmont city councilor; Gideon Kracov, a member of the South Coast Air Quality Management District and attorney; and Tania Pacheco-Werner, a member of the San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District and the American Public Health Association’s Latino Caucus for public health.
All of the air board appointments require state Senate confirmation, which is typically a formality. All five are Democrats.
At the public utilities commission, Randolph has focused on climate change adaptation as well as electric and gas resource planning and design of the energy market, according to her bio on the commission’s website. She’s also worked on rate cases for the state’s three major investor-owner utilities.
David Pettit, a staff attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, said among Randolph’s immediate responsibilities will be working with the incoming Biden administration to unwind Trump’s lawsuits filed against California over emissions and reestablish California’s authority to set its own emissions standards. Pettit has not previously worked with Randolph.
“Whoever is sitting in the CARB seat is going to need to be on the phone to D.C. really early in the tenure,” he noted.
Gladys Limon, executive director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, called Randolph a “thoughtful leader” and an “astute choice” to lead the board.
Given her experience on rate cases at the PUC, Randolph understands how to pursue climate goals while keeping rates affordable, Limon said.
The group also applauded Newsom’s appointments of Kracov and Pacheco-Werner. The alliance has opposed some of Nichols’ initiatives, particularly the cap-and-trade program, arguing it benefits big business over people who live in polluted areas.
“The governor heeded the call to diversify the board and elevate environmental justice,” Limon said.
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