Mary Nichols, one of the country’s foremost environmental attorneys, has joined UCLA School of Law and the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment as distinguished counsel. Nichols will support the Emmett Institute’s mission to create and advance legal and policy solutions to climate change and other environmental challenges and to train the next generation of leaders.
“Mary has been a leading contributor to key advances in both state and federal environmental law. She brings to UCLA Law an extraordinary depth of expertise and achievement in environmental law, policy, and politics,” says Ted Parson, the Dan and Rae Emmett Professor of Environmental Law and faculty director of the Emmett Institute. “I and our faculty and students will benefit immensely from her wisdom and knowledge.”
Nichols will join the Emmett Institute’s 10 core faculty members to provide leadership and guidance to advance the institute’s research and public service work on environmental and climate law and policy in the United States and around the world.
“I am excited to be joining one of the country’s foremost centers for the study and advancement of new legal and policy solutions,” Nichols says. “The Emmett Institute is part of a great public university and puts public service at the heart of its work. No center is better prepared to take on the toughest challenges in environmental law – and design paths for their implementation. Supporting students making the leap into leadership roles in environmental law will be a core part of my work.”
Nichols will also provide mentorship and support for law school students, contributing to the Emmett Institute’s success in training future leaders and launching graduates into leadership careers in government, non-profits, and the private sector.
In December 2020, Nichols completed her tenure as chair of California Air Resources Board, a post she held since 2007. She also served on the board from 1975 to 1982. Under Republican and Democratic governors, Nichols oversaw the development and implementation of multiple globally recognized programs to cut air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. During her leadership, California became a national leader at developing clean energy and clean transportation solutions that many other states and nations have adopted.
Nichols’ achievements in environmental law include bringing the first litigation under the then-recently passed U.S. Clean Air Act while working at the Center for Law in the Public Interest from 1971 to 1974. As assistant administrator of air and radiation for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Clinton from 1993 to 1997, Nichols led efforts to establish the first federal air quality standard regulating potentially deadly fine-particle pollution and the acid rain trading program. In 2018, in recognition of her unparalleled career of accomplishments, she received the Award for Lifetime Contribution to the Field of Environmental Law from the California Lawyers Association Environmental Section.
“Mary is, quite simply, an environmental hero of the first rank. Throughout her long and distinguished career, she has arguably done more to fight air pollution and climate change than anyone at any level of government anywhere in the world,” says William Boyd, the Michael J. Klein Chair in Law and faculty co-director of the Emmett Institute. “We are fortunate to have her join us during what is clearly a make-or-break moment for the climate.”
Nichols has also served as the California secretary for the Natural Resources Agency from 1997 to 2003; executive director of Environment Now Foundation; founder of the Los Angeles office of Natural Resources Defense Council; director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and professor-in-residence there; and co-founder of the first environmental justice working group, a multi-ethnic forum for leaders from traditional environmental and community-based organizations to address issues of environmental equity. She received her B.A. from Cornell University and her J.D. from Yale Law School.
In addition to her role at UCLA Law, Mary Nichols serves as co-chair of the Commission on the Future of Mobility and as vice chair of the California-China Climate Institute. Nichols holds visiting appointments at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy and Cornell Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. In 2020, she was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.