A guide to the environmental bills introduced in this year’s legislative session
Nevada lawmakers have shown a growing interest in addressing the state’s environmental needs. In 2019, they revamped renewable energy standards to require that 50 percent of the energy consumed in Nevada come from renewable sources by 2030. During the last session in 2021, they took steps toward electrifying the state's transportation system. So far, in the 2023 session, they’ve drafted 16 pieces of legislation dealing with water. Another dozen looks to increase protection for wildlife and other conservation efforts. There are also efforts underway to take a more proactive approach to the impacts of climate change. Examples of the environmental bills currently being debated in Carson City follow.
Outdoor recreation is big business in Nevada, bringing nearly $5 billion into the state's economy annually, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Between Lake Tahoe and the Ruby Mountains, from the Jarbidge Wilderness to Lake Mead, the state’s natural areas are under threat from the climate change and overuse by people.
AJR3 - Proposed by Assemblywoman Sarah Peters (D-Reno) and Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), this resolution would kick off the process of amending the Nevada Constitution to include a language guaranteeing every resident the right to a clean and healthy environment and that the state must protect its natural resources. A change to the constitution, it would have to be approved twice, once this session and again in 2025, and then go before voters in 2026.
AB164 – Call it the anti-screen time bill. To get more kids outside more often, this legislation from Speaker of the Assembly Steve Yeager (D - Las Vegas) would create a study to find ways to incorporate more outdoor recreational opportunities in public school curriculum. It also looks to teach kids to be better stewards of the environment.
AB84 - To make the 28 state parks and recreational areas scattered across Nevada more accessible to everyone, lawmakers have previously approved free or reduced fees for state parks for disabled veterans and anyone over 65. Now, lawmakers are considering legislation extending free access to Nevada's tribal communities as well.
One good precipitation year won't fix the American West's water woes, and despite above-average snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and Rockies, water levels at Lake Mead continue to shrink. That's why lawmakers are considering a handful of measures to recover every last drop of reusable water.
SB176 – Amid the patchwork of complicated, contentious water laws, one rule has remained relatively constant: Those with the oldest rights get to take their share first. But there's not enough to go around in some basins. Sen. Pete Goicoechea's (R-Eureka) has proposed creating a state program allowing the engineer's office to buy water claims in areas where groundwater is overallocated and retire them — forever taking them off the market.
AB220 - The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates there are as many as 15,000 private septic systems in the Las Vegas Valley. To regain some of the water trapped in those tanks, AB220 would require all privately-owned septic tanks within 400 feet of a community sewer in Clark County to connect to that system by 2054. It would also create a program to help pay at least half the cost for property owners to make the switch. SNWA estimates each septic system could generate as many as 315,000 gallons of water annually.
AB186 – Compared to the two previous massive water bills, Heidi Kasama's (R-Las Vegas) AB186 is straightforward. It would prohibit restaurants from providing drinking water unless a patron asks for it. There's little evidence to suggest that the policy would significantly affect conservation efforts. But at this point, every drop helps, right?
PROTECTING ANIMALS AND WILDLIFE
At nearly 110,000 square miles, home means Nevada to 309 endemic species, making it the country's 11th most species-diverse state. Yet many of those animals are at risk, including 94 plants, 26 invertebrates, seven fishes, two amphibians, 16 reptiles, 26 birds, and 27 mammals.
AB112 - Vehicles kill more than 5,000 wild animals in Nevada every year, creating both ecological and financial problems. According to the Nevada Department of Transportation, vehicle crashes caused by animal collisions cost the state roughly $20 million annually. This bill would allow the state to use federal dollars to build and maintain animal crossings over the state's highways.
AB102 - This bill would ban the killing contests, which ranchers and hunters have used to control animal populations they've considered pests for generations. The measure protects beavers, bobcats, coyotes, mink, muskrats, otters, rabbits, skunks and weasels. Anyone caught organizing a competition could face fines of up to $30,000. Those caught participating could face fine a $1,000 fine.
SB90 - Nevada has a lot of state symbols: We have a state flower, a grass, and two trees; a state bird, fish, and fossil (bonus points for naming them all!). This bill, brought forward by a group of fourth-grade students from Reno's Doral Academy, would designate wild mustangs as Nevada's state horse. It adds no new protection for the animal but could help educate others about the wild horse population.
ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE
If you think it's hot in Las Vegas now, then buckle up, buttercup! Temperatures have already risen by two degrees over the last century, and that growth rate will likely worsen. Clark County's Climate Vulnerability Assessment projections show temperatures climbing by more than seven degrees by 2050 and eight to nearly 13 degrees by the end of this century. For some lawmakers, it's become imperative to take steps now to prepare for life in a changing climate.
AB131 - The Las Vegas Valley becomes a heat sink by summer’s end, and nowhere is it felt more than greenspace-starved east Las Vegas. Assemblywoman Leslie Cohen’s (D - Las Vegas) bill would create an Urban and Community Forestry Program under the state's Division of Forestry. It would promote, develop and maintain tree canopies in communities across the state, with particular attention on traditionally underserved neighborhoods and areas prone to heat islands.
AB71 - In 2019, the Nevada Occupational Health and Safety Administration recorded 81 "heat stress complaints." In 2021, that number grew to 202. Advocacy groups like the Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition want lawmakers to create rules requiring employers to ensure workers have access to shade and water, and train them in spotting signs of heat stroke and what to do about it. On the other hand, lawmakers want to study the issue for a few years to determine which communities are most burned by the changing climate.