Chair, California Air Resources Board
What She's Done On New Year's Day, Nichols inaugurated the world's second-largest cap-and-trade framework – the first time a state has harnessed market forces to curb global warming. Nichols fought hard to preserve the climate plan, despite a legal challenge and a statewide referendum backed by Texas oil firms that sought to kill it legislatively. The new framework, which places strict limits on carbon emissions, will reduce pollution to 1990 levels by the end of the decade. Environmentalists who hope the plan will provide a national model for curbs on planet-warming pollution are encouraged by Nichols' track record: In 2009, she moved to regulate carbon emissions for cars – prompting the Obama administration to adopt stringent fuel-economy rules nationally.
Admirers Say "She's a game-changer, because she knows how to put policies into action so they stick," says EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.
Enemies Say The California Chamber of Commerce, Western States Petroleum Association and other dirty-energy groups have teamed to defeat her "job-killing tax."
Gives Us Pause As campaign manager, failed to get former L.A. mayor Tom Bradley elected as governor in 1986.