As Nevada lawmakers convene for a legislative session dominated by budgetary concerns, many are looking to move forward on clean energy initiatives in the hope of diversifying the economy while addressing climate change.
On Monday, the Nevada Conservation League held a virtual meeting with the Nevada Conservation Network and several Democratic state legislators to preview their priorities ahead of the 2021 state legislative session.
“We have to keep the agenda moving forward, even in the climate we face right now with the budget and what’s going to be a really difficult legislative session,” said Sen. Chris Brooks.
Brook said he’s working with Gov. Steve Sisolak to introduce a bill to incentivize increasing transmission, storage, and distribution of clean energy in Nevada. The bill will also help build out electric-vehicle infrastructure, like public charging stations.
“We can do this even 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 good-paying jobs and tax revenues,” Brooks said.
“We are decades behind in doing it,” Brooks said. “To really get to the next level of deep decarbonization at an affordable price we need massive transmission infrastructure investments.”
State Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said she believes clean energy can contribute to Nevada’s economic recovery.
But “One of the toughest challenges that we face is certainly the budget,” Cannizzaro said.
Howard Watts, chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, said he will introduce a bill to close Nevada’s classic car loophole, which allows tens of thousands of cars to avoid smog checks. Under Nevada law, almost any car more than 20 years old is eligible to be registered with a classic license plate and thereby avoid a smog test, which is otherwise mandatory in Clark and Washoe County.
The bill would also slightly increase the state’s smog fee to create a program to provide vouchers for low-income families to repair older vehicles that do not pass the new requirements or to help replace their vehicles with low or zero-emission cars. California, and other states, have similar programs that have been relatively successful.
“We need to take a focus on equity in our approach to these issues,” Watts said. “Making sure we are addressing some of the health, economic, and other access disparities that communities of color have faced,”
Chispa Nevada supports the bill. Program Director Rudy Zamora, said it could help improve air quality as well as access to electric vehicles for low-income customers.
“This is something that’s going to help us remove old vehicles. We have all seen them,” Zamora said. “We run into these older vehicles and it hits the gas and there’s this big black cloud of smog. Those are the vehicles this program is intended to address.”
Conservation, revenue not mutually exclusive?
The focus on budget constraints underscores the need to raise the mining tax, said Ian Bigley, mining justice organizer for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
Sales and gaming taxes make up about half of the state general fund. The state’s reliance on regressive taxes makes Nevada the fifth least equitable tax structure in the nation, said Bigley.
The bottom 20 percent of Nevadans with an income of less than $20,500 pay 10.2 percent of their daily income in taxes, including 7 percent in sales tax, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. However, Nevadans with an income of $473,600 or higher only pay about 2 percent share of their household income on taxes, 0.7 percent of which are sales tax.
Nevada’s constitution caps the industry’s tax rate at 5 percent of “net proceeds.” As a result mining operations that deduct a majority of their expenses can go year after year paying little to no state taxes. In 2019, 13 gold and silver mines in Nevada with combined gross proceeds of nearly $700 million paid no taxes under the “net proceeds” tax.
In his state of the state address on Jan. 19, Sisolak made no mention of the mining tax legislation as a way to raise revenue, however, three proposals centered on mining taxes could be up for consideration by the 2021 Legislature. If one is approved by that body, it will appear on the 2022 general election ballot to be decided on by voters.
Of the three, the alternative preferred by PLAN and most progressive and environmental groups is Assembly Joint Resolution 1, which would tax mining on 7.75 percent of their gross proceeds of minerals. If approved, it would send 75 percent of the revenue raised to the state general fund and 25 percent to a new account to be used for educational purposes, health care or economic assistance for residents.
“While mining revenue alone is not enough to solve our state’s budget crisis, we believe AJR1 goes the furthest,” Bigley said.