Mary D. Nichols

Distinguished Counsel

  • B.A. Cornell University, 1966
  • J.D. Yale, 1971

Mary Nichols is Distinguished Counsel for the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. In December 2020, Nichols completed her tenure as chair of California Air Resources Board, a position she held since 2007 when she was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Prior to this appointment, she served as Director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment (IoE).

Nichols received her B.A. from Cornell University (1966) and her J.D. from Yale Law School (1971). After law school, she worked as an attorney for the Center for Law in the Public Interest in Los Angeles (1971-74) where she brought the first litigation under the then recently passed Clean Air Act. Nichols was employed by the State of California as the Secretary of Environmental Affairs and the Chair of the Air Resources Board (1974-78), and briefly served as Los Angeles Chief Assistant City Attorney in charge of the civil branch (1978-79) before returning to her previous position at the state (1979-1983). Nichols moved on to private environmental law consultation (1983-88), while serving as campaign manager for Tom Bradley for Governor of California (1985-86). Nichols also took on the role of Director for the People for the American Way (1987-88) before founding the Los Angeles office for Natural Resources Defense Council as senior attorney (1989-93). From 1993-97, Nichols was appointed as Assistant Administrator of Air and Radiation for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She then headed the Environment Now Foundation as Executive Director from 1997-98.

Prior to joining UCLA, Nichols served as the California Secretary for Resources (1979-2003) where she was responsible for the state’s activities relating to the management, preservation, and enhancement of its natural resources, and for the oversight of the state’s scenic, cultural, and recreational resources.

In February 2009, Nichols was awarded the Attorney of the Year award from California Lawyer Magazine (the CLAY award) for her contributions to environmental law.