Environmental groups, Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Steve Sisolak celebrated the clean energy agenda passed during the 2019 legislative session, but there were also calls to take more aggressive action to protect public health from auto emissions.
The RenewNV Coalition, members of which include are but not limited to the Nevada Conservation League, Chispa Nevada, Battle Born Progress, and the Sierra Club, released a clean energy scorecard on the 2019 legislative session last week. Sisolak and several legislative leaders attended an event marking the scorecard’s release. The governor and Democratic lawmakers all earned a score of 100 percent.
“I haven’t gotten a 100 percent in a lot of years,” Sisolak joked. “I think it was second grade, the last 100 percent.”
Legislators thanked Sisolak for his leadership on environmental bills, but emphasized that there is more work to be done on reducing carbon emissions, especially around transportation, which did not receive nearly as much focus as energy generation at the Legislature.
“We are well on our way to reducing carbon emissions from our energy sector, but actually now transportation is the number one source of carbon emissions,” Assemblyman Howard Watts said at the event. “We have health impacts related to that transportation pollution.”
The most important next legislative steps is figuring out how to move away from fossil fuel transportation to electric transportation, said Watts.
Watts was the sole sponsor of successful legislation that provided weight and length exemptions for electric semi-trailer trucks.
“Those put out some of the worst diesel pollution. We’ve all been blasted by them,” Watts said.
In an interview, Watts said he believed there is support in the Legislature to emulate California’s mandate to increase sales of zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) and auto emission standards, the nation’s toughest. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s standards.
“Several of the bills passed had to do with electric vehicles,” Watts said. “So I think that’s the first step. I think there is more work we can do to promote electric vehicles and I think moving towards those ZEV standards is a good next step for our state.”
The EPA listed the transportation sector as the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Part of the agency’s recommendation for reducing emissions from transportation include developing “advanced vehicle technologies such as hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles.”
Every four years the state Department of Environmental Protection inventories greenhouse gas emissions. The last report was issued in 2016, and the most recent data set in that report was from 2013. It showed transportation and electricity generation accounted for roughly the same amount of emissions in Nevada, at 33 percent and 34 percent, respectively.
State Sen. Yvanna Cancella, who chaired the Growth and Infrastructure Committee where much of the session’s clean energy legislation was passed, similarly touched on the environment and health impact of pollution on air quality.
“The number one reason that kids miss school in Southern Nevada is because of asthma,” Cancella said. “And that’s a direct result of air pollution and air quality.”
The Clark County Department of Air Quality lists one basin in Nevada as an “ozone marginal nonattainment area,” meaning it does not meet EPA national ambient air quality standards for ozone.
That basin is home to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area, where 7 out of 10 Nevadans live.
“Clean energy — to make this happen”
“When I began my campaign I promised to support legislation and executive action that cleaned our air and cleaned our water increased renewable energy standards and put Nevadans on a path to 100 percent carbon free emissions,” Sisolak said during the event.
For the most part, conservationists agree that Sisolak has kept those campaign promises.
During his campaign Sisolak said he would support community solar projects and later signed a bill, AB465, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe Moreno that promises to expand solar access, reduce rates for some low-income customers, and expand job training and placement opportunities in the solar industry.
“Expanding access to solar especially among low income customers must be included as part of a comprehensive plan to reach our renewable energy goals,” Sisolak said.
In May Sisolak signed Nevada on to the U.S. Climate Alliance— a group of governors committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement— after pledging to follow the agreement.
He also said he would raise the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030 in order to move Nevada towards 100 percent renewable energy. In April Sisolak signed into law SB358, a bill by Democratic Sen. Chris Brooks which increased the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030 with a goal of 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050.
“By signing SB358 Nevada has finally reclaimed its clean energy leadership role by having one of the highest RSP standards in the country and the benefits are endless and more to come,” Sisolak said.
Sisolak called on attendees to continue making calls and knocking on doors to push for future clean energy legislation.
“We saw a lot of other good ideas this legislation that came up and just didn’t get enough traction to get anywhere, but you provided the impetus, you provided the traction you provided the energy— clean energy — to make this happen.”
Speaker Jason Frierson also spoke at the event celebrating conservationist legislative victories.
“We are a model for the rest of the country. Other states are looking at what we did and how they’re moving forward,” Frierson said.
Frierson praised the Legislature for working on bipartisan compromise. A number of clean energy bills passed with unanimous support from both the Senate and Assembly, including AB299, a bill that opened up funding for an electric school bus pilot program and AB254, which increased standards for light bulbs to save energy and reduce consumers’ power bills and legislation to increase renewable portfolio standard.
According to data from the Nevada Department of Education, during the 2017 to 2018 school year, a total of 2,789 school buses traveled a total of 38,080,144 miles.
Most of those buses (1,805) are located in the Clark County School District and most of those miles (26,979,334) were driven in the Clark County School District.
While Sisolak did not call out President Trump by name he said, “Nevada is making it clear that we will act together to combat global warming even when others on the national stage fail to do so.”
Scores were measured using voting records on eight clean energy measures passed during the 2019 legislative session signed into law by Sisolak, ranging from bills to curb carbon emissions to bills advancing the use of electric vehicles and raising the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.
The lowest score in the state Senate was given to Republican Ira Hanson at 57 percent, and Republican Robin Titus had the lowest tally in the Assembly at 43 percent. All Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly received a 100 percent score.