Meet Mary Nichols, The Woman Who Drives The Zero-Emissions Push

If you think that autonomous car technology is the principle threat to letting you enjoy driving your crass, unsophisticated, petrol-burning vintage car into the foreseeable future, it’s time to think again.

Whether future man is allowed to steer the till himself or not, the automotive landscape as we know it faces additional forces of change from another direction: clean-air legislation. And perhaps no one is so vocal and prominent a figure in the push towards a zero-emissions future than Mary Nichols, Chairman of the California Air Resources Board.

Bloomberg recently profiled the formidable CARB Chairman, who has led the Board since 2007. At least, that’s when her current tenure began; she had run the CARB previously from 1979 to 1983, when she left to volunteer for the Sierra Club and teach Environmental Law at the University of Southern California. It’s her stated mission, says Bloomberg, to get the internal-combustion engine off the road entirely by 2050, replaced exclusively with zero-emissions vehicles and mass-transit.

To meet this goal, California and other CARB-compliant states are incrementally-adjusting EV sales requirements, serving simply as models for the rest of the world; Nichols sees exporting California’s zero-emissions policies across the globe as crucial to changing the course of global climate change. In an April speech, Ms. Nichols said that “if the federal government can’t get [environmental policy] right, we in Cal­ifornia are going to take care of busi­ness.”

Of course, replacing every fuel-burning motor vehicle on the road with a zero-emissions alternative seems like a far-off goal, and 2050 a far-off time, but Mary Nichols is a proponent extraordinarily well-suited to the task. Global automakers have learned not to engage in a stand-off with the seasoned and notable law professional – at least not publicly – and she had a firm hand in both a 1972 lawsuit against the federal government over testing provisions of the Clean Air Act, and in the industry-wide implementation of catalytic converters several years later.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne did decry Nichols’ push for zero-emissions recently, according to Bloomberg, stating that the corporation would sell just as many examples of the 500e as required to meet CARB standards – not one unit more. Asked about Mr. Marchionne’s dissent, Mary Nichols said simply: “There’s a reason Chrysler is the perennial No. 3 of the Big Three.”

Aaron Birch is an automotive enthusiast and writer/filmmaker from Detroit, MI. As a rule, he only buys cars older than himself.


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