President Joe Biden and the U.S. Department of Transportation announced last month they would be ending a Trump-era rule that blocked states, specifically California, from setting their own vehicle emissions standards.
The reversal lays the ground for more states to take control of their fight against climate change.
Nevada will now be free to adopt California’s low-and zero-emission vehicle rules, a move Gov. Steve Sisolak had already put in motion despite the Trump administration’s efforts to halt states from doing so.
Over the decades the auto industry has often pushed back against stricter emission standards.
But while saying they would prefer a national emissions standard, a group representing Nevada auto dealers says Nevada adopting California’s strictest-in-the-nation standards is inevitable.
In December the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) invited auto dealers, advocates of lower emissions and others to “listening sessions” as part of a plan to develop new regulations. Under what the state calls the “Clean Cars Nevada ” initiative rules developed before the end of this year would require dealerships to sell an as yet unspecified percentage of low- or zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2024.
NDEP will hold another listening session Thursday and formal rulemaking sessions will begin in July.
The proposed regulations are set to have a formal hearing with the state Environmental Commission in September before heading to the Interim Legislative Commission for approval.
New emission rules are in line with the state’s broader Nevada Climate Initiative goals of reducing harmful air pollution from cars and light-duty trucks on Nevada roads.
“This will address emissions that are local,” said NDEP Administrator Greg Lovato. “This will go part of the way in addressing ozone issues in the Las Vegas area, but we’ll also need continued improvements from California.”
“In terms of meeting air quality standards, this is the next best step we can take in Nevada,” said Jeffrey Kinder, chief of NDEP’s Bureau of Air Pollution Control.
While the Trump administration worked to rollback vehicle emissions standards instituted under former president Barack Obama, conservation groups are confident Nevada will adopt more stringent emissions standards.
“There’s a national and global trend towards electrification which has been growing stronger for many years but especially in 2021,” said Aaron Kressig with the conservation group Western Resource Advocates. “Manufacturers just see the writing on the wall in many ways. This is the way of the world and I think they’re just accepting that.”
Dealerships have traditionally opposed stricter emission standards. In Colorado auto dealers vowed to keep fighting the state’s move to adopt stricter vehicle emission standards.
A group representing Nevada auto dealers, however, said they see where the market is heading.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that come January of 2022 California emission standards will be here,” said Andrew MacKay, executive director of the Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Association. “They’ve been working on this for quite some time.”
“There will be some challenges for certain dealers because they won’t necessarily have the product to market, but it’s coming,” MacKay said.
The market in Nevada also shows clear signs of demand for lower- and zero-emission cars, said MacKay.
In Nevada, hybrid and electric vehicles make up about 4 percent of the market share for light duty vehicles. However, hybrid and EV registrations were up 75 percent during the first three months of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020 while overall light vehicle registrations declined by 5.2 percent, according to data compiled by the association.
Higher fuel prices in Nevada will continue to spur interest in the bevy of electric vehicles hitting the market, according to the association. Nevada has the third highest fuel prices nationally behind Hawaii and California.
“We’re excited. We’re investing millions of dollars in our facilities knowing what is coming down the pike,” MacKay said.
MacKay said the association “wholly and completely supports improvement in fuel economy” but cautioned that changes in auto emission standards should be mindful of market affordability.
“We do believe there should be just one national standard,” MacKay said. “Predictability from a regulatory standpoint is always better.”
In 2019 the Nevada Legislature codified the state’s goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 28 percent by 2025, 45 percent by 2030, and zero or near-zero by 2050, a reduction that is not possible without higher emission standards.
But Nevada is on the trajectory to miss those carbon reduction goals, largely due to emission levels from the transportation sector, per a 2019 state report on greenhouse gas emissions.
The largest source of greenhouse gas emissions year by year in the state comes from transportation, at about 36 percent, according to NDEP. Light-duty vehicles, like passenger cars, account for the majority of emissions at about 70 percent.
In Nevada, more than 2 million light-duty vehicles are registered, 60 percent of which are registered in Clark County. Washoe County has the second largest number of registered light-duty vehicles at 17 percent.
Those numbers correlate with lower air quality in the state. In Clark County, the Las Vegas Valley was designated an “ozone marginal nonattainment area,” meaning it does not meet Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards.
Washoe County is currently designated as in attainment, however, recent ozone levels have been extremely close to nonattainment. Carson City and Douglas County are also becoming areas of concern.
“With increasing population we have more vehicles on the road and so we need to tighten our emission standards in order to actually clean up the air,” said Kinder with the Bureau of Air Pollution Control. “The sooner we can address this the more likely we are going to be able to achieve our climate goals in Nevada.”