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Happy Belated Earth Day, Nevada: Raising the RPS Is a Start, But Our Climate Challenge Requires More Solutions

Yesterday was another one of those “split-screen realness” kind of days. While we were breaking some news from the courthouse, other news was breaking at the statehouse. Ultimately, all this news has to do with this one house we all share: a house we call Earth.

Earth Day may have come and gone, but recent environmental news here in Nevada provides both words of encouragement on what can be done… And a cautionary tale of what still must be done to save ourselves from ourselves.

While we were out, the Legislature and the Governor did something.
Photo provided by the Office of Governor Steve Sisolak

Last week, we noticed as SB 358 sailed out of the State Senate with a unanimous vote of approval. Shortly after the Senate moved, the Assembly decided to treat SB 358 as “emergency legislation” so Governor Steve Sisolak (D) can sign the landmark bill to require that at least 50% of the power we use come from renewable resources by 2030 and sign the bill on Earth Day.

So yesterday, on Earth Day, Sisolak signed this landmark RPS (or renewable portfolio standard) bill into law. This symbolism certainly wasn’t lost on Sisolak, as he declared, “Renewable energy is a major cornerstone of my economic development plan, and this bill will put Nevada back on the path toward renewable energy leadership on a nationwide level and continue to bring well-paying jobs to our communities.” He continued, “Today, Nevada sent a message to the country and world that the Silver State is open for business as a renewable leader, and our commitment to growing our clean energy economy transcends party lines.”

Between this and Sisolak’s executive order last month that added Nevada to the U.S. Climate Alliance, wherein member states uphold the tenets of the Paris Climate Accord despite President Donald Trump’s insistence upon the nation formally leaving it behind, Nevada is taking steps to address climate change at the state level. There are additional bills pending, such as AB 465 and SB 420, to further expand access to renewable energy, but there’s far more this state can and must do to fully address the full spectrum of environmental justice needs.

Not all development is developed alike, and not all growth is necessarily good.
Photo by Andrew Davey

While a host of politicians were congratulating themselves and each other for fixing what went wrong in 2017, we were reporting on a different kind of fix: In 2018, Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) began demanding that golf courses pay higher water rates for Virgin River water that were more equivalent to the rate VVWD officials claimed the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) was paying, despite SNWA officials warning that they could not lease the “leftover golf course water” that VVWD was offering.

Last August, my colleague Mike McGreer warned about VVWD’s plan to pump 22 times the amount of water that’s recommended under the State Engineer’s guidelines. Weeks later VVWD General Manager Kevin Brown voiced confidence that VVWD has enough water to serve all its customers, but he declined to provide more specifics on how much water is available or recommend any conservation mandates to rein in overall water use.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Last December, the Clark County Commission hit the pause button on the oft-debated proposal by Jim Rhodes’ company Gypsum Resources to build some 3,000 new homes and adjacent commercial properties at Blue Diamond Hill, an area that borders three sides of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Last week, the Clark County Commission voted unanimously to hit the pause button once more.

Both the fight over water rates in Mesquite and the fight over Jim Rhodes’ plan to develop new homes at the foot of Red Rock Canyon illustrate the larger struggle over development: How much is too much? Keep in mind that new developments require more water, demand more transportation infrastructure, and may result in more carbon emissions if they’re not developed in the most energy efficient way possible. For decades we’ve convinced ourselves that “growth begets growth”, but in this era of climate crisis we must ask ourselves more often what kind of growth we can truly afford.

So yes, RPS is a start, but we really need more.
Photo by Andrew Davey

While the Nevada Legislature is currently considering a few bills that may alleviate our state’s growing affordable housing crisis, the Legislature is barely even touching the intrinsically connected issue of sustainable development. RTC of Southern Nevada is moving along with a plan to bring rapid bus transit onto Maryland Parkway, but many gaps remain in Las Vegas Valley’s mass transit system. Washoe County’s bill to cut back on protected wilderness lands may be going nowhere fast (for now?), but it remains to be seen how Reno will strike the right balance between smart growth and open space.

Even with SB 358 becoming law, several other states still beat us on RPS. Even with SB 358 becoming law, Nevada may still beat all other states in releasing toxic chemicals into our environment. Even with SB 358 becoming law, Nevada still needs to find the right balance in conserving water and ensuring enough water for communities throughout the state.

So yes, SB 358 becoming law is a big deal… But it doesn’t solve all our environmental problems. Climate change presents us with a complex set of challenges, and the state will eventually have to rise to the challenge and present climate solutions that address this complex set of challenges facing our land, our water, our wildlife, and our people.

Cover photo provided by the Office of Governor Steve Sisolak.

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