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Photo of Ann Notthoff

The Golden Touch

A native Californian has helped her state become the nation's environmental leader.

More than half a million people move to California each year. Some are drawn by jobs, others come for college, but many are beckoned by the state's natural treasures, from the 1,100 miles of Pacific coastline to the 14,000-foot peaks of the Sierra Nevada. In a land of newcomers, Ann Notthoff is a rarity -- a fifth-generation Californian. An appreciation for the state's splendor runs in her blood. As NRDC's director of California advocacy, she has brought this passion to the halls of the state Capitol in Sacramento through the administrations of five governors. She says all but one -- George Deukmejian -- have aspired to be environmental leaders. The reason is simple: The environment is a core value for voters in the Golden State.

But values don't automatically translate into sound law or good policy. It takes an understanding of the issues, strategic thinking, and hard-nosed advocacy. "I do my best work when I can combine political savvy with NRDC's legal, policy, and technical expertise," says Notthoff, who is based in San Francisco.

Notthoff got her start in the 1980s spearheading the effort to end new oil and gas drilling off California's coast. She built a broad bipartisan coalition of environmentalists, government officials, businesspeople, and fishermen who feared an oil spill could devastate the environment and destroy tour-ism and fishing in coastal communities. The campaign was so successful that today it is unthinkable for a California politician even to suggest new drilling.

Notthoff's advocacy often has repercussions far beyond California. With the world's fifth-largest economy, the state serves as a laboratory for new policies and programs. Notthoff lobbied relentlessly and successfully for legislation requiring automakers to reduce global warming pollution. The first law of its kind, passed in 2002, it could spawn a new generation of cleaner, better cars. The tailpipe emissions regulations required by the law were adopted last summer, and already New York State and Canada have said they intend to follow California's lead.

Part of Notthoff's job is to think strategically about how NRDC can implement its priorities in California in order to spur change nationally, especially when the federal government is unable or unwilling to act. Over the past 40 years, the state has enacted the toughest air pollution, climate change, and ocean protection laws in the nation -- three global problems that could use a boost from California.

In September 2004, California passed laws to curb wasteful fishing practices and establish an Ocean Policy Council, making it the first state to enact recommendations from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the new ocean plan during a ceremony on California's central coast. By his side was California's secretary of environmental protection, Terry Tamminen. "From my perspective, [Notthoff] is one of the most effective and energetic advocates in Sacramento on any topic," Tamminen later said. "The environment is well served having her as an ally."

NRDC is pushing for national legislation similar to the California Ocean Protection Act, and the signs are encouraging. Several bills have been introduced with bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. One bill, written by Representative Sam Farr, an old ally from Notthoff's campaign to stop new oil drilling off California's coast, offers further proof that her hard-won initiatives and alliances extend far beyond California's borders.
-- Craig Noble

Also Inside NRDC
The View from NRDC

Something to Look Forward to...

In September 2004, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law more than two dozen environmental bills, including legislation that will:
  • Expand funding for diesel emissions reduction programs
  • Mandate smog checks for all cars built since 1976
  • Let cars that get 45 miles per gallon into carpool lanes
  • Expand ocean protection programs
  • Limit destructive bottom-trawling in state waters
  • Create a Sierra Nevada conservation zone
  • Require that all trucks entering California, including those from Mexico, meet federal clean air standards
  • Ban wastewater dumping by cruise ships near the coast

  • Photo: Bart Nagel

    OnEarth. Winter 2005
    Copyright 2004 by the Natural Resources Defense Council