Nichols acknowledges that some environmentalists have always been skeptical of the market-based approach of cap-and-trade. Given the opposition of some on the left, in order to muster the two-thirds legislative majority to pass what amounted to a new tax on greenhouse-gas emissions, the Brown administration had to court votes “from legislators whose districts are either heavily impacted by the oil and gas industry, or who oppose the entire climate program.” She believes the end result meets the state’s goals.
For her part, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association, which represents the oil and gas industry in California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada, says the agreement is a testament to Nichols’s negotiating skills. “We supported an extension of a cap-and-trade program with the most aggressive targets in the world,” she says. “And the reason for that is that we were really able to sit down with them and understand cost containment. Even on the most difficult of issues, you’re still able to have the right conversation about what each of you thinks is important. She’s willing to listen to a good argument, in the context of being who she is. She is unyielding in her passion and vision, but her approach is very respectful.”
Los Angeles has grappled with air quality since at least 1542, when the Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed into San Pedro Bay and, noticing the smudge from Chumash Indian fires trapped by the ring of surrounding hills, dubbed it la Baya de los Fumos, or the “Bay of the Smokes.” But the advent of modern smog is generally dated to July 18, 1943, when an outbreak of blinding, acrid fog blanketed the city, so severe that some residents at first mistook it for a wartime Japanese gas attack. A Southern California Gas Company plant that produced a compound used in synthetic rubber was fingered as the initial culprit and promptly shut down, but the outbreaks continued.
Not until the early 1950s did Arie J. Haagen-Smit, a Dutch biochemist at the California Institute of Technology, prove that the scourge was the result of invisible automobile exhaust reacting with sunlight. By the 1960s, some parts of Los Angeles were living with up to 200 dangerous smog days a year, barely able to see the mountains that ring L.A.’s coastal plain. Nichols herself first saw the city in a “Day-Glo orange” haze on a cross-country trip with a friend in 1969. “It was pretty horrific,” she says.
But two years earlier, Governor Ronald Reagan had signed the law mandating the creation of the Air Resources Board, charged with improving and maintaining the state’s air quality. Because the agency predates the 1970 federal Clean Air Act, its pioneering status—since confirmed by judicial decisions and various amendments to the federal law—has allowed California to set its own, more stringent air-quality standards. Other states may choose to follow California’s standards, but none can set its own. The current board has 16 members, most appointed by the governor, and representing local air-quality districts and various fields of technical expertise, including automotive engineering, agriculture, medicine, and law. It regulates everything from lawn mowers and air fresheners to hair and insect sprays, and its roughly $1 billion budget is financed through user fees—vehicle smog-certification fees and polluter permits—and not subject to the state’s general fund.