Groundbreaking Appointment: Liane Randolph to Chair CARB

Groundbreaking Appointment: Liane Randolph to Chair CARB

S. E. Williams | Executive Editor 

Last week California Gov. Gavin Newsom made another historic appointment when he named Liane Randolph as the first African American to Chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

“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,” said Gov. Newsom regarding her appointment.

Randolph’s credentials are a testament to her qualifications. She has served as a Commissioner at the state’s top regulatory agency, California Public Utilities Commission, since 2015. She was Deputy Secretary and General Counsel at the California Natural Resources Agency from 2011 to 2014 and an Attorney at Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw, Pittman from 2007 to 2011, and previously served as Chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission from 2003 to 2007, where she was also a Staff Attorney from 1996 to 1997.

During her career Randolph spent time as San Leandro City Attorney and was a Principal at Meyers Nave from 2000 to 2003, where she was an Associate from 1997 to 2000. Her career also included a stint as an Attorney at Remcho, Johansen and Purcell from 1994 to 1996 and an Associate at Manatt, Phelps and Phillips from 1993 to 1994.

Shana Lazerow, Legal Director of Communities for a Better Environment issued the following statement regarding Randolph’s appointment: “The CARB Chair appointment carries with it a tremendous responsibility to California’s environmental justice communities. Our communities are feeling the impacts of climate change compounding the already-unacceptably polluted air we breathe. We have appreciated Commissioner Liane Randolph’s dedication at the California Public Utilities Commission and look forward to working with her to bring climate solutions and innovative approaches to emissions reductions that empower California’s most vulnerable populations. Particularly in this time of pandemic, California’s low-income communities of color need CARB to lead as an agent of positive change.

For years, the California Air Resources Board has often acted more aggressively than the federal government when it comes to issues related to air quality and climate change and over the previous four years California has butted heads with the current administration over stricter emission limits for vehicle manufacturers.

Mary Nichols, CARB’s current chair, is rumored to be on President elect Joe Biden’s short list to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. However, according to a report by KQED, a coalition of some 70 California environmental justice groups, national environmentalists and other organizations sent a letter to Joe Biden’s transition team asking the incoming president to avoid picking Mary Nichols.

The letter claimed in part, “[ Nichols is] not the right person to oversee and implement climate and environmental programs for the country.” The letter highlighted what they described as her “bleak track record in addressing environmental racism.”

It included the following statement:

“Mary Nichols and the California Air Resources Board (CARB), under her leadership, have repeatedly disregarded the recommendations of the environmental justice bodies established to uphold the integrity of California’s environmental policies, especially as to how they harm or benefit low-income communities of color in the most polluted areas of the state.”

Nichols, who served as chair once before in the early 1980s, will end her second tenure as CARB chair this month. This time she served about 13 years from 2007 to 2020.

Last month the Black Voice News reported a group of Black employees at CARB had banded together and presented the agency with a13-page letter detailing claims of widespread, routine, and systemic racism. Although 5.5% of the state’s population is Black, Blacks are underrepresented in CARB—only 4.4% or 73 of the agency’s 1627 employees are Black.

Nichols also came under fire earlier this year for appearing to compare the brutal death of George Floyd who died struggling for breath under the knee of a Minnesota police officer in May, to the ongoing struggle for clean air in relation to environmental racism.

The governor’s comments about Nichols, which did not reflect these concerns, were filled with platitudes.

“I am extremely thankful to Mary Nichols. Through her extraordinary tenure as Chair, Mary has done more than any other Californian to boldly reduce air pollution through both innovation and tenacity,” Gov. Newsom said. “Thanks to Mary and her excellent staff, CARB now stands as a beacon for how to lead with responsible public policy toward cleaner air.”

Newsom has committed to achieving carbon neutrality and clean energy and assured constituents his administration is fighting for a healthier, more vibrant future for California families. Randolph was not the only CARB appointment made by the governor this week. He also  appointed John Balmes, Davina Hurt, Gideon Kracov and Tania Pacheco-Werner to serve on the Board. According to the governor’s office, Air Resources Board members who are representatives of an air pollution control district receive no compensation.

S. E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.

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