Governor Newsom Withdraws Appointment of former ExxonMobil Staffer to South Coast Air Quality Board

By Dan Bacher | 

Under pressure from environmental justice groups, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced the withdrawal of last month’s appointment of Negar “Nikki” Noushkam, 44, of Los Angeles, to the South Coast Air Quality Management District Board.

Environmental justice groups opposed the appointment because Noushkam had served as an environmental project manager and process engineer at ExxonMobil Oil Corporation from 1997 to 2001. She also held several positions at Northrop Grumman, a global weapons contractor and aerospace corporation, including senior principle engineer, project manager and lead systems and photovoltaic design engineer, from 2004 to 2015.

“While the Governor was impressed by the technical and engineering expertise of the nominee, the Governor is withdrawing his previous nomination to the South Coast Air Quality Management District,” said Vicky Waters, Deputy Director of Media and Public Affairs at the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom. “Given the air quality challenges faced by families in Southern California, the Governor believes his appointee should have both a strong understanding of public health and the trust of local communities.”

Noushkam’s appointment took place on July 12, the day after Newsom fired California’s top oil and gas regulator in a response to a Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance report showing numerous conflicts of interest among DOGGR staff and a 103 percent increase in new fracking permits since Newsom took office this January. 

Environmental lawyer Adriano Martinez, the “LASmogGuy” and a lawyer for Earthjustice, responded immediately to the appointment in a tweet that day, and helped spur the outpouring of opposition to the appointment.

“Gov Newsom just appointed somebody with a past in polluting industries (eg Exxon) to the South Coast AQMD. It’s a critical swing vote, so  just called my Senator & asked him to stand with our lungs over Big Oil & work with his colleagues to block the appointment,” said Martinez.

In response to Wednesday's announcement, STAND-L.A., an environmental justice coalition of community groups that seeks to end neighborhood drilling in Los Angeles, said in a tweet: “We appreciate @GavinNewsom prioritizing the health & safety of the public, ensuring that our leaders are equipped to tackle this issue. Stronger climate leadership is needed to protect our future. We urge leaders to phase-out oil production in CA.”

The Governor’s Office did not divulge which environmental groups had contacted the Governor regarding opposition to Noushkam’s appointment, nor did they say if Newsom had a new person in mind to replace Noushkam. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem.  

Noushkam has been a senior project manager at Environmental Remediation Services Inc. since 2007 and chief engineer for the Aerospace Corporation since 2015. 

The withdrawal of the appointment comes in the wake of increased opposition by environmental justice, conservation and public interest groups to the expansion of onshore and offshore drilling in California under Governors Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom. Despite California’s “green” image, Governor Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved over 21,000 new oil and gas wells, including over 200 new offshore wells, according to a 2018 analysis of Department of Conservation data by the Fracktracker Alliance.

Rather than decreasing the number of oil drilling permits approved, the Newsom administration in fact doubled the numbers of fracking permits issued during Newsom’s first five months as Governor, as documented in my article on a groundbreaking report by Consumer Watchdog and the Fractracker Alliance:… 

From January 1 to June 3 of 2018, the State’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) approved 2,365 new oil and gas well permits and 191 fracking permits, according to Department of Conservation data analyzed by the two groups.

The data reveals that this year regulators have increased the number of permits granted for drilling new wells by 35.3%, well reworks by 28.3%, and fracking by 103.2%, as compared to the permitting rate during the final year of the Brown administration in 2018.

Of the 2,365 well permits issued, 1064 or 45% of them benefitted oil companies invested in by eight senior DOGGR officials.

After the two groups exposed the expansion of oil and gas drilling and big conflicts of interests by senior DOGGR officials, Newsom fired Ken Harris, the head of DOGGR. 

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