Tran scandal could keep air board chief from EPA post

Dec. 30, 2012

By Chris ReedThornhillPhD

As soon as I heard EPA chief Lisa Jackson was leaving, I took to Twitter to predict state air board chair Mary Nichols would be considered a hot candidate for the job, as she was in 2008. When the San Francisco Chronicle got around to this angle Saturday, I expected the usual cheerleading. Instead, lo and behold, it acknowledged the Hien Tran scandal that I broke after being tipped off by UCLA epidemiologist James Enstrom — and the Chronicle framed it as the worst thing to happen on her watch:

“Either way, if nominated, it’s likely we’ll hear about some of the not-so-great air board moments under her leadership. Among those is how she handled a researcher whose work supported a major diesel exhaust regulation and who was found to have lied about his scientific credentials.

“Nichols didn’t tell all of the board members about the falsification before they voted to approve a regulation based on his research. Also, he was never fired.”

I began writing about this story in December 2008. When I established that Hien Tran didn’t have the Ph.D. he claimed from UC Davis, it was the lead item on Rough & Tumble one afternoon. Afterwards, it disappeared from California’s mainstream media for a few months, even as I broke the news that the degree Tran presented the air board with was a mail-order Ph.D. from Thornhill University, a diploma mill associated with, yes, a fugitive pedophile.

Thankfully, in March 2009, Lois Henry of the Bakersfield Californian started writing great columns that did a powerful job of demolishing Tran’s rotten science. John and Ken had me on to talk about the scandal and eventually even gave James Enstrom a platform to explain how he figured out Tran’s deceit.

Finally, after a September 2009 air board meeting at which the full governing board was confronted with evidence of Tran’s fraud, did the bleep begin to hit the fan.

Finally, Mary Nichols was held to account for keeping the Tran scandal from a majority of the board even as it voted for highly controversial diesel emission rules based on his work.

Even then, it still took a month for the mainstream media to tackle the story, and when they did, Dan Walters wrote a dishonest column excusing Sacramento journalists for not taking the scandal seriously a year earlier when I broke it.

But now it could cost Nichols an EPA seat. The story of how Tran kept his job while Enstrom got fired for rocking the boat would be riveting at a Senate hearing — and the background information is plentiful on the web.

Yo, Mary: karma time!


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