Nevada lawmakers plan ambitious green initiatives

The Nevada State Legislature - photo: Brian Bahouth/the Ally

Last night the Nevada Conservation League (NCL) hosted a Zoom event where several key lawmakers discussed a host of environment initiatives planned for the 120-day legislative session that got underway yesterday.

State Senator Chris Brooks is a Democrat from Las Vegas and chair of the Senate Finance committee, vice chair of the Senate Growth and Infrastructure committee, a member of the Senate Natural Resources committee, and a noted advocate for renewable energy development.

During the meeting, Senator Brooks outlined his plans for an omnibus energy bill that currently exists as five Bill Draft Requests. 

“In it (the omnibus energy bill), we have electric vehicle charging infrastructure plans. And it will have an alignment of our IRP process, integrated resource planning for the electric utilities,” Brooks said via Zoom. “It will have that aligned with our carbon reduction goals. So it won’t just be the renewable portfolio standard anymore that is guiding how we invest in clean energy in the state. We’re actually going to use the carbon reduction goals of the state to guide clean energy investments. It also will incentivize and prioritize new electric transmission in our state to open up at first glance about $10 billion worth of investment in clean energy around the state of Nevada. And and it will create opportunities for rooftop solar, for tenants and multifamily housing for folks who generally haven’t been able to participate in rooftop solar.” 

The pandemic has caused a severe state budget crisis, and legislative bandwidth is limited this session by the many demands of balancing a hobbled state budget and maintaining essential services.   

“We can do this in the midst of a pandemic, even in the midst of a massive economic downturn, we can take advantage of this legislative session to move the ball forward on climate and also create jobs, good paying jobs, and tax revenues. I think that all of these things can live together, and we can achieve all of the goals at the same time,” Brooks said.

State Senator Nicole Cannizzaro is Senate Majority Leader, vice chair of the Senate Judiciary committee and a member of the Senate Finance committee.  She spoke during the meeting and said she agreed with Senator Brooks’ energy goals and added that they will be a legislative priority because they not only help improve the state’s carbon balance but provide much-needed jobs and tax revenue.

“We really do have to start looking at ways in which we can start to create a stable economy here in the state where we can utilize our abilities where we’ve taken such a great lead on clean energy here on carbon emissions and how to reduce those here in the state, where the governor has been working so hard on a Climate Action Plan. 

“How do we start to capitalize on the leadership and the successes that we’ve seen here in Nevada, to truly start to build our economy and start to include things like our clean energy sector. I think that’s going to be such a huge piece of the economic recovery in light of the pandemic and something that I’m very much looking forward to working on.”

Assemblyman Howard Watts is chair of the Assembly Natural Resources committee. He said he’s excited to work on measures to combat climate change and also shepherding legislation that protects public land and waters. Watts pointed to last session and the passage of the state’s conservation bond program.

Watts said one of the things Congress was able to accomplish during their last session was permanently reauthorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation fund.

“And one of the huge benefits of that is that it provides 50-50 matching grants for recreation projects in the state. So that is potentially opening up a lot of additional federal funding that state and local governments can match in order to expand recreational opportunities in the state,” Watts said.

Climate change disproportionately affects people of color. A meeting attendee asked Watts about accounting for racial equity in climate change and environmental legislation.

Rudy Zamora is program director for Chispa Nevada, which is part of the League of Conservation Voters. He is working on soon-to-be-introduced legislation with Assemblyman Watts that would change the state’s classic car program to help minority and low-income residents operate vehicles that pass the state’s mandatory smog check test.

In Nevada, if a car is older than 20 years, it can be registered as a “Classic Car” which obviates the need for a smog check. Watts said many abuse the program to get older, vehicles that could not pass the smog check test registered.

“After the law governing those plates was changed in 2011, people realized that they could use it as a loophole to avoid being smog checked,” Watts said. “So people with older vehicles, polluting vehicles, that are having issues with smog check, can use these classic vehicle plates if their car or truck is 20 years old or older in order to get around the smog check.

“It’s clearly something that between high-traffic corridors being located in low-income communities and communities of color. As well as the fact that this is often something of a necessity that small businesses and entrepreneurs and low-income families can’t afford to make the (vehicle smog check) repair or get a new vehicle.

“I decided that this was something that I wanted to address and close those loopholes so that we can get those polluting vehicles either in-compliance or off the roads. But I also realized that doing that was going to have a significant impacts on people financially. At the same time it was delivering health benefits in terms of taking that pollution out of those communities.”

Watts said that working with Chispa and other groups, his legislation would adjust the smog fee to provide funding to help low-income Nevadans keep and maintain more environmentally friendly vehicles.

“So when you pay for a $20 smog check, $6.00 of that goes to our state and local governments to run air pollution control programs. And so if we adjusted that up to $10 and everyone paid $4 more on their smog check, we could bring in revenue to help support programs targeted to low-income communities and communities of color to help repair, to provide a voucher that provides a voucher that covers the average cost of a repair for a vehicle that has failed the smog check. Or, to replace that vehicle with a brand new electric alternative.”

Christi Cabrera is policy and advocacy director at the Nevada Conservation League. During the meeting she discussed a pending bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui that would take steps to better make sure development does not disturb the state’s wildlife.

“So we are advocating for a bill that requires developers to consult with the Nevada Department of Wildlife on any significant development proposals or plans. Developers would have to state the impacts to both wildlife and habitat when they submit their proposals. The local government or other permitting authority would then be able to take this information into consideration when deciding to either approve a project, deny it it or require some mitigation effort.”

Dylan Sullivan is a senior scientist in the Natural and Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Sullivan said Nevada has to do three things to meet the Renewable Portfolio Standard of 50 percent of electric energy from renewable sources by 2050. 

“First, we need to get a lot of our electricity from renewable sources like solar, wind and geothermal. We need to get to high levels even sooner than is required in the Renewable Portfolio Standard that’s on the books in Nevada. It’s great but we need to do even more.”

Sullivan said in order to accomplish the second task of meeting RPS goals, clean grid energy is needed to power regional transportation means, from cars to school busses and extended public transport options. 

Sullivan’s third objective focuses on changing personal energy consumption habits at home. He said Nevadans spend $1.8 billion a year on natural gas.

“Using efficient electric technologies like heat pumps and induction cook tops, to heat our homes, to get hot showers, to cook instead of using methane gas, which has troubling health effects in addition to contributing to the climate crisis. That’s something that we need to do.”