California Air Resources Board Evades Public Oversight

California taxpayers have long been aware that politicians and bureaucrats need watching. Accordingly, the 1967 Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act implements a provision of the California Constitution declaring that “the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.” The Act also mandates open meetings for state agencies, board, and commissions, but this mandate does not always prevail. As Katy Grimes of the California Globe reports, the Omnibus Resources Trailer Bill for 2019-20 contains language exempting a commission of the California Air Resources Board and CalEPA from the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. And as Grimes notes “this isn’t the first time the ARB has found itself exempted from the Open Meetings Act.”

In 2012, CARB boss Mary Nichols teamed with Assembly Speaker John Perez to exempt the ARB from the open meetings act. Senate Bill 2018 “specifically exempted CARB from open meeting rules in upcoming cap-and-trade auctions, allowing CARB’s Western Climate Initiative, Inc. to manage carbon trading auctions without any public scrutiny.”

As it happens, Mary Nichols is a lawyer, not a scientist, and has never seen a regulation she didn’t like. She left CARB in 1983 and ran Tom Bradley’s gubernatorial campaign in 1986. Bradley lost and Nichols became director of Norman Lear’s People for the American Way and founded the Los Angeles office of the Natural Resources Defense Council, where she served as a senior attorney. During the Clinton administration, Nichols worked for the federal EPA as Assistant Administrator of Air and Radiation, followed by a stint with the Environment Now Foundation.

Nichols returned to CARB in 2007 at the request of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Nichols championed AB 32, the “Global Warming Solutions Act,” with a host of new regulations and restrictions. Gov. Jerry Brown reappointed Nichols in 2011, and on her watch CARB operates with a budget of more than $860 million. That is a lot of power for a regulatory zealot who never has to face the voters and seeks to keep her mammoth agency off-limits to public scrutiny. Whatever Nichols is trying to hide can’t be good for California taxpayers.


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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