Almost two years ago, President Donald Trump announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change. On Tuesday Nevada legislators unveiled their latest plan to follow the agreement regardless.
“The State of Nevada must act now to ensure that Nevada’s greenhouse gas emissions decrease on a trajectory consistent with emissions reduction commitments made by the United States to implement the Paris Agreement adoption,” reads the bill.
Senate Bill 254, which has 21 sponsors, all of whom are Democrats, seeks to reduce carbon emissions by requiring the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to issue an annual report of greenhouse gas emissions in the state and identify policies to reduce those emissions.
Existing law already requires the department to submit a statewide inventory of greenhouse gases at least every four years, along with an analysis of its findings, but SB 254 would beef up those responsibilities.
In addition to annual reports, the proposed legislation requires the department to make annual 20-year projections of emissions and recommend ways that Nevada could reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by various industries in Nevada, including electricity production, agriculture, and transportation.
The goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 28 percent by 2025, 45 percent by 2030, and reduce emissions to “zero or near-zero” by 2050.
The department would also be required to work with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada, the Governor’s Office of Energy, NDOT, and the Department of Motor Vehicles when preparing its annual reports.
Climate change, the bill notes, threatens the health, lives and safety of Nevada’s residents by increasing heat stress and air pollution among the state’s most vulnerable populations, while also harming Nevada’s economy by “potentially deterring visitors and reducing the hours where it is safe to engage in outdoor activities.”
Impacts — both ecological and economic — will be harsh in sunbelt states like Nevada, making Nevada more expensive and less livable, according to some of the grim conclusions in the Fourth National Climate Assessment issued late last year.
Total Nevada emissions have increased 25 percent since 1990, but have decreased 27 percent from a 2005 peak. For the past decade, Nevada has moved away from coal-fired electric generation for cleaner, less expensive, natural gas, and to a lesser extent a variety of renewable energy sources like solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, and wind.
Gov. Steve Sisolak’s administration “appreciates the conversation we’ve had with the bill’s sponsor, and we are eager to get to work on its aims,” David Bobzien, director of the Governor’s Office of Energy, told lawmakers.
Earlier Tuesday, Sisolak joined the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Chris Brooks, and legislative leaders in an event to announced Nevada’s is one of 23 states joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, which formed to commit to the Paris Agreement shortly after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord.
The governor declared a commitment to implementing policies that advance the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emission and to accelerate new and existing policies to reduce carbon pollution and to promote clean energy.
During his State of the State address in February, Sisolak said “I will not spend a single second debating the reality of climate change.”
Along with other Sisolak administration officials, representatives from NV Energy, The Solar Energy Industries Association, PLAN and other environmental groups, and religious groups support Nevada doing its bit to fight climate change.
Arguments for the bill centered around the dangers of pollution on public health and the need for a proactive approach to climate change. Patrick Donnelly, state director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the measure “may be the single most important piece of legislation” in state history. “From dwindling flows in the Colorado River to catastrophic wildfires scorching millions of acres across the Great Basin desert, climate change poses an existential threat to our state,” Donnelly said.
The Western States Petroleum Association, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Farm Bureau, the Nevada Trucking Association, and the Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Association all spoke in opposition to the bill.
Some opponents argued that Nevada does not contribute enough greenhouse emissions to warrant legislative actions, others said they’d prefer the bill to focus on market driven solutions that consider economic impacts when navigating policy to reduce carbon emissions, preferring a strong emphasis on cost-benefit analysis.
“We’d like to see that cost-benefit analysis,” said Andy Mckay, executive director of the Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Association.
Paul Enos, CEO of the Nevada Trucking Association, said “Where we do have an issue is not having that cost-benefit analysis, because without that cost-benefit analysis that does not give our folks a roadmap to show how they can reduce their emissions.”
The economic cost of emissions regulation has been a much-cited reason for opposition to environmental bills. Citing the detrimental effect of regulation on business, the Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era regulations, instead weakening greenhouse gas rules for power plants, ending a rule requiring cars to be cleaner and more efficient, and making it easier for companies to avoid monitoring and repairing methane leaks.
Brooks, the bill’s chief sponsor, said while he does agree that cost-benefit analysis is important, the Legislature must also look at the social impact of climate change rather than fixate on business’s bottom line.
“We should also look at the cost of inaction and look at the overall cost climate change has on our economy, on our society, and on this planet,” Brooks said.