Conservation Network Gets Behind Five Bills for '21 Legislature
Nevada has made climate change a priority. Recently passed laws have committed the state to getting half our energy from renewable sources by 2030, and to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
So how are we going to get there? Especially during an economic recession, when there isn’t even enough money in the state for necessities like education?
That’s up to the legislature to figure out. And the conservation community will be keeping a close eye on it.
Christi Cabrera is policy and advocacy director for the Nevada Conservation League, one of more than a dozen similar nonprofits that have joined together to champion specific bills in the current legislative session.
One priority for the network is the state's mining taxes.
Currently, the industry enjoys a tax cap, which is enshrined in the state's constitution, and dozens of tax deductions. Cabrera said the mining industry extracts millions from Nevada but pays very little in taxes, which ultimately impacts how much money is in state coffers.
"Our state financial health impacts our ability to implement programs that support the environment and hold bad actors accountable," she said, "An increase in revenue to the state makes it possible to better fund environmental justice, conservation programs, alongside other programs such as education and healthcare that all the people in our state depend on."
For years, various groups have tried to get the constitution changed so mining could be taxed more. Cabrera believes this is the year that could actually happen.
"Mining hasn't been paying their fair share for so long. So many groups have been advocating for this," she said, "We're seeing a huge coalition of organizations that are advocating for this... You're hearing it from education organizations and now you're hearing it from the environmental organizations."
Cabrera said the broad coalition of organizations shows where the state is on the topic.
Another important issue for Cabrera's group is changing a loophole in the smog rules for classic cars. In 2011, the smog check rules for cars were changed, creating a loophole for classic cars, she said.
The rule allows about 25,000 cars to avoid smog compliance, and those cars can put out as much as 20 times the amount of smog as modern cars.
"What we're trying to get at here isn't your 1950s Porsche or your 60s Corvette," she said, "We're really talking about your 1999 Corolla down the street that has a classic vehicle plate and really isn't a classic car."
The bill the Nevada Conservation Network supports would close that loophole, update fees for smog checks to fund county air quality programs, and reduce how often newer cars need to get a smog check.
Also on the league's legislative agenda is a bill that would require developers to consult with the Nevada Department of Wildlife on planned construction projects.
"It's trying to get developers to start thinking about how [construction] will impact wildlife and habitat and really getting the best available science and experts to back up that information," she said.
Cabrera said the bill won't be applicable to Clark County, because the county already has its own rules for developers. If it does pass, it will impact the rest of the state.
Other conservation groups are focusing on Nevada's energy goals.
Dylan Sullivan is the senior scientist for the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. His group is pushing a responsible energy planning bill.
He explained that the bill would mandate tracking natural gas infrastructure.
As Nevada moves from burning natural gas, which is a fossil fuel that produces greenhouse gasses, for water heaters and stoves and into electricity produced by solar and geothermal sources, it will have to keep a closer eye on the natural gas industry.
"We know that to meet the climate challenge we're going to have to, over the next decade, reduce our use of methane gas in homes and businesses," he said, "There is a real risk that gas utilities are going to waste ratepayer money building out the system even more during that time."
Sullivan said that utilities are going to want to continue to put down pipes because that is how they make money, but if the gas companies continue to put in more infrastructure as the state moves away from natural gas, then it will cost consumers.
"Really what we're trying to do in this bill is get ahead of that potential issue and really kick the tires on investment proposals and give the utility regulators, the Public Utilities Commission, the tools to scrutinize gas utility investments and then start to think about doing this transition in a fair and equitable manner."
Another bill Sullivan's group is working on would tweak two previously passed bills that address energy efficiency. He said that saving energy is critical to getting to a safe climate.
Right now, NV Energy has programs that help consumes buy more efficient appliances, like air conditioners, when old ones break.
"NV Energy has programs but they're not as comprehensive as they should be," he said, "NV Energy doesn't save as much electricity every year as peer utilities like Xcel in Colorado."
Sullivan said energy conservation must be a priority if the state is going to meet its climate goals.
"What the bill would do, what it would tweak, is put in place savings requirements on the utility and it would also increase the amount of effort that NV Energy has to devote to programs that are targeted at low-income households," he said.
It will also give the PUC the option to give administrating the energy efficiency programs to another party, in case NV Energy didn't want to do it anymore.
Sullivan believes that 2020 brought home the climate crisis to a lot of people and that will translate into support for the conservation agenda in Carson City during this legislative session.
Christi Cabrera, policy and advocacy director, Nevada Conservation League; Dylan Sullivan, senior scientist, climate and clean energy program, Natural Resources Defense Council