Breanna Reeves | IE Voice

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) dedicated a new Southern California headquarters in Riverside on Thursday. Formerly located in El Monte and called the Haagen-Smit Laboratory (HSL), the new campus is named in honor of Mary D. Nichols, former CARB chair of 13 years.

At 402,000 square feet, the 19-acre Mary D. Nichols campus is located on land donated by the University of California, Riverside and is the largest zero-net energy (ZNE) building in the United States. The facility cost $419 million, including $108 million allocated for specialized laboratories and testing equipment.

CARB chair Liane M. Randolph welcomed community partners and local leaders during the ribbon-cutting ceremony and thanked them for making the new headquarters a reality. Speakers such as Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside) and University of California, Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox expressed excitement for the new facility and emphasized the importance of tackling air pollution for the community.

“To protect those communities hit hardest with pollution burdens from transportation, we need to accelerate our action on even cleaner cars and trucks and drive the total transformation of our transportation system to zero emissions,” Randolph said.

Current CARB chair Liane M. Randolph welcomes local leaders and community partners to the dedication ceremony in Riverside, CA on November 18, 2021. (Photo by Breanna Reeves)

As the center of innovation and sustainability for clean air, CARB and the surrounding educational community have signed agreements that the new facility will also be used to offer classes, tours and educational opportunities to students and faculty to educate them on air quality, the impacts of climate change and the work CARB does.

Despite the progress made regarding clean air in Riverside and the greater Inland Empire since the establishment of CARB in 1967, Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson reminded onlookers that “We’re not safe, not by a longshot.”

“Because, unfortunately, too many Riversiders, many of them children, still suffer. Children with already challenging health issues such as asthma are still breathing dirty air, still struggling for breath and spending time indoors when they should be outside,” Dawson said. “And an even greater tragedy is that many come from communities of color.”

A study published in Science Advances in April by researchers at the Center for Air, Climate and Energy Solutions, an Environmental Protection Agency-funded research center, concluded, “Racial-ethnic minorities in the United States are exposed to disproportionately high levels of ambient fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5), the largest environmental cause of human mortality.” 

Over the last decade, the Inland Empire has become home to a large logistics industry with manufacturers like Amazon constructing warehouses throughout communities of color. The growth of the logistics industry increases the concentration of air pollution and contributes to the rate of exposure among Black and Hispanic populations. 

“Breathing clean air should not be a luxury. It should be a human right for every person in the state of California. Therefore, I am elated that CARB has made the Inland Region its home,” said Assemblymember Medina during the ceremony. “We now have the experts, the innovative technology and research labs under one roof to ensure that our communities breathe clean air they so desperately need.”

An aerial view of the Mary D. Nichols campus, the new Southern California CARB headquarters. (Photo by Connie Zhou)

Previously, CARB was housed at the Haagen-Smit Laboratory (HSL) for nearly 50 years. During that tenure, several innovations were developed such as the catalytic converter and Check Engine Light system.

Former CARB chair of 13 years Mary D. Nichols addresses the audience during the dedication ceremony of the new CARB Southern Headquarters, named after her, in Riverside, CA on November 18, 2021. (Photo by Breanna Reeves)

According to CARB Public Information Officer Lynda Lambert, one of the key differences between the new campus and the old facility is that the new building is larger and newer, expanding the capacity for conducting more heavy-duty testing with buses and rigs. At the old facility, CARB had to conduct heavy-duty testing at a different site in Los Angeles. 

Another key difference is the Mary D. Nichols facility also has far more advanced chemistry labs to analyze motor vehicle exhaust emissions, evaporative emissions and transportation fuels samples.

While Nichols was CARB chair, more than 278 regulations, 37 State Implementation Plans, 16 incentive programs, 10 State Air Quality Standards and 3 climate action plans went into effect.

Nichols is currently Co-Chair of the Commission on the Future of Mobility, a Professor of Law at UCLA Law School and Vice Chair of the California-China Climate Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. 

“The politics of this issue go beyond just Riverside,” said Nichols. “It really is a world mission.”

Header photo: Former CARB chair Mary D. Nichols and current chair Liane M. Randolph hold giant scissors during the CARB dedication ceremony in Riverside, CA on November 18, 2021. (Photo by Breanna Reeves)

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America...