SACRAMENTO -- The prospect of a gun-toting action hero running loose over the California terrain brought chills to environmentalists when Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor of California. His gas-gulping, smog-belching Humvee certainly didn't help.
But as Schwarzenegger, the movie star and former bodybuilder, prepares to take over as governor today, his early critics concede surprise at the depth and reach of his environmental action plan, which promises to protect forests and watersheds, cut pollution of the air and water, and reduce reliance on oil and gas.
Environmental activists were heartened Wednesday by Schwarzenegger's nomination of one of their own to head the state Environmental Protection Agency, an important Cabinet-level post responsible for enforcing environmental laws and policies regulating virtually everything under the California sun.
While few environmental groups openly embraced Schwarzenegger during the recall campaign -- in fact, most opposed the Oct. 7 recall election against Governor Gray Davis -- some activists began warming up to his platform when Terry Tamminen, executive director of Environment Now, was enlisted by Schwarzenegger to shape his environmental platform.
"When people realized that I was involved, it gave environmental activists some level of comfort," said Tamminen, whom Schwarzenegger announced as his choice to lead Cal/EPA.
"He is very thoughtful about the environment," Tamminen said of Schwarzenegger. "He doesn't preach about it, but he is very sincere about the beliefs that are ensconced in his environmental plan."
Better known for pumping iron than pumping up hydrogen as the fuel of the future, Schwarzenegger wants the state to invest in a network of hydrogen fuel stations, a process already underway, and he has urged carmakers to increase production of affordable, hydrogen-powered automobiles. He wants the state to derive at least a third of the power it consumes from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, by 2020.
In apparent disagreement with the Bush administration, Schwarzenegger says he supports the forest preservation framework put in place by the Clinton administration to protect public lands from logging. Moreover, he wants to establish a conservancy program to protect the Sierra Nevada mountains. And he wants the state to examine the impact of federal policies limiting environmental review of new sources of industrial air pollution.
"We now have someone with whom to dance, and we just need to know how he'll dance. So far, his footwork's been pretty good," said Frances Spivy-Weber, executive director of policy for the Mono Lake Committee, which is concerned with saving habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife east of Yosemite National Park.
"My first impression was a guy with a Hummer, and so I thought, `Oh, dear.' At the time, I didn't see anything to make me think he would be sympathetic to the environment."
During the campaign, Schwarzenegger was derided by some environmentalists for driving a Humvee. Advisers, including Tamminen, persuaded him to consider converting the vehicle to use hydrogen fuel cells, a promise Schwarzenegger made during the campaign.
"He's dead serious," said spokesman H. D. Palmer, adding that eight companies have bid for the job. "It wasn't just a throwaway line during the campaign."
While Schwarzenegger's selection of Tamminen for the Cal/EPA job has pleased environmentalists, others hope the new governor will balance that nomination by selecting someone who is probusiness to head the state's Resources Agency, another high-profile Cabinet position.
"We're looking to him to come up with a plan where all the stakeholders benefit," said George Gomes, administrator for the California Farm Bureau Federation. "All we ask is that we get an opportunity to present our views and that there is balance in the decision-making process."
The balancing act was evident in the nomination of Tamminen's deputy. Schwarzenegger tapped James Branham who worked in the administration of Governor Pete Wilson. Most recently, Branham was an executive with Pacific Lumber Co., a frequent foe of environmental activists.
"We're very pleased with the appointment of Terry Tamminen," said Bill Magavern, a Sacramento lobbyist for the Sierra Club in California. Unfortunately, he said, the Schwarzenegger administration also has chosen people "who are not in harmony" with his environmental plan.
The turnaround among environmentalists was thanks to outreach by Tamminen, who invited environmental groups to review Schwarzenegger's proposals. "We've been very pleased in his reaching out to the environmental community, including us," Magavern said.
Schwarzenegger's commitment to his environmental program will be determined by his fiscal priorities as the state continues to grapple with budget problems, Magavern said. "So it's hard for us to know for sure" where he will stand on the environment, he added. Betsy Reifsnider, executive director of Friends of the River, a conservation group, said, "We're all holding our breath and waiting to see what will happen."We've seen Arnold Schwarzenegger go white-water rafting, and we hope he looks fondly at and has an appreciation for a free-flowing river."