I spoke today with Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, the Republican nominee for California attorney general, for an article on the AG’s race that we’ll run in the next few weeks. During that chat, he took a dual shot at current Attorney General Jerry Brown – also the Democratic gubernatorial nominee – and California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols.
Cooley was speaking about the role he believes the attorney general should take in setting and enforcing policies that don’t hinder job creation and economic development; he said businesses too often get negativity from state agencies and end up delaying their development or settling in other states as a result.
I asked him if he was saying the attorney general shouldn’t enforce the law of the land, including environmental protections and business code laws, especially as he’d just asserted to me the importance of the attorney general enforcing existing law as it pertains to same-sex marriage. He acknowledged the AG must enforce the law, but said those laws must be examined to make sure they’re applied in a fair, unbiased manner without conflicting messages between state agencies.
I noted that the AG’s office doesn’t necessarily have dominion over how all state agencies enforce the regulations they promulgate; as an example I cited the various bodies enforcing air-quality regulations. He seized upon that, and called out Brown for failing to dig into what he says could’ve been malfeasance at CARB.
In a nutshell, CARB staffer Hien Tran – who authored a statistical study on diesel soot effects on which the board was basing stringent, controversial new regulations – lied about where he’d obtained his Ph.D. Per the San Francisco Chronicle last December:
State researchers must redo a report that concluded 3,500 people prematurely die each year due to diesel pollution – a finding that was used to justify imposing the nation’s strictest regulations on diesel engines.
The California Air Resources Board ordered a new report after the employee who wrote it was found to have lied about his academic credentials. That decision was made Wednesday after an air board hearing on the rules, which critics want to delay because of concerns over the cost of retrofitting and replacing the polluting engines.
The head of the air board, Mary Nichols, apologized for not telling all board members about the problem with the report’s author, Hien Tran, who claimed he had a doctorate in statistics from UC Davis, when he actually had obtained the degree from an unaccredited distance learning school. Nichols knew about the problem before the board voted on the regulation.
Tran has since been demoted. One air board member asked that the regulations be suspended, but that idea was turned down.
Cooley today said Brown should’ve jumped in.
“This is a person who falsified his credentials and Mary Nichols concealed that from the Air Resources Board … a major bureaucratic failing on her part, not to notify people who had to make policy decisions based on her report,” he said. “Jerry Brown just looked the other way, I’d have been knocking at her door asking questions.”
Brown’s office at first said he was unavailable until 5 p.m. today, so I told them I wait until 6 p.m. before posting this; they then said a few minutes ago that they still couldn’t reach him, so they’d decline to comment.
An e-mail sent to CARB earlier this afternoon wasn’t answered.