From Congress to Legislature, six environmental issues to watch in 2021
Hello and welcome to the Indy Environment newsletter.
It’s December 24, 2020. And it goes without saying that it’s been a tough year all around. While I look forward to 2021, I keep in mind that the next few months – and longer – should remain difficult, perhaps even more so. But as this holiday week approaches, I’m grateful for so many things, including The Indy, for the opportunity to write this newsletter every week and to be able to showcase voices from across the state. Hope everyone can take some time during the break and celebrate a warm holiday with their friends and family even though Zoom is over.
As always, we want to hear from readers. Let us know what you see on the ground and how the policies affect you. Email me with any tips or suggestions to [email protected].
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1. Move from climate change planning to climate policy: Nevada now has a climate strategy on Governor Steve Sisolak’s desk. The thing to watch out for in 2021 is how the state begins to implement it. The overall objective of the climate strategy is to provide a path to net zero emissions by 2050. Thus, by definition, it has a lifespan of several decades. But that does not excuse policymakers to act now. The strategy recognizes that, without a new policy, Nevada is unable to meet the 2050 target. The questions then become: what policies and how are they prioritized?
The climate plan differs from other reports in that it does not deliver pre-written bills to the legislature or prescribe local governments exactly what policies they must implement to put the state on the right track. way to achieve its goals. This makes a point simpler: Climate change is something that regulators and elected officials need to incorporate into all of their processes – something to consider every step of the way. Over the next year, it will be important to see how policymakers, local and national, assess climate change decision-making on a range of issues – in housing construction, transport, urban planning and diversification of the state economy. How these policies approach social justice and equity are critical, and ones I will be watching closely.
2. A shift to public lands and environmental regulations: Over the weekend, President-elect Joe Biden introduced his climate team, made up of people appointed by the administration for several key positions related to energy and the environment. Compared to Trump’s appointments in recent years, Biden’s appointments generally represent a mixed study.
If the staff is the policy, those named by Biden, on the whole, are signaling a significant change from a Trump administration that rolled back many environmental protections, often going against the best science available. The New York Times has a list of all rollbacks. What is happening to move forward? Much depends on the problem. In some cases, changing a regulatory rollback would require a comprehensive rule-making process that can take years, especially if Democrats are not in control of Congress. In November, InsideClimatNews examined five potential focal points for a Biden administration seeking to correct climate-related setbacks. The article notes that there are other factors at play, including increased public support for climate action, awareness of the problem, and potential industry adherence to certain regulations.
While climate change is rightly getting a lot of attention, it’s not just about climate change. The Trump administration has rolled back many regulations regarding public lands, which are plentiful in Nevada (the US Bureau of Land Management controls about 67% of all land in the state). The person Biden appointed for the Home Office, New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland, represents a historic choice for the position of the first Native American to head an agency that oversees tribal lands and is charged with protecting wildlife and to allow on public lands.
3. Where will renewable energies go? Even during a Trump administration that did not actively encourage the deployment of renewables over the development of fossil fuels, energy companies continued to research and build large renewable facilities in the Mojave Desert. As the state government and the Biden administration focus on expanding renewable energy, there will be increasing pressure to locate projects, such as solar and geothermal facilities, on or near sensitive lands.
This problem is not new. For more than a decade, the issue has often divided the environmental community, particularly in the Mojave Desert where poorly located renewable projects can harm species, including the Desert Turtle. Under the Obama administration, land managers created zones (solar energy zones) to prioritize solar development on land considered suitable for development. But solar developers have continued to build projects outside these areas.
At the same time, Nevada is poised to play a role in the materials supply chain for renewables and electric vehicles – technologies that are poised to be the basis of a low-carbon economy. . As mining companies look to build new projects, they are already starting to face similar questions regarding location: What’s the impact on water? What is the impact on wildlife?
There is no way around this: meeting the decarbonization goals is going to require a lot of land and a lot of public land. This is why some conservation groups advocate a planning process that analyzes land values and prioritizes the development of renewable energy on previously disturbed land. How this happens – or would happen – is something I will be watching over the next year.
4. An imminent fight for natural gas: The climate strategy of the Sisolak administration is clear. In order for Nevada to meet its climate goals, the state must switch from natural gas to commercial and residential buildings. The climate plan includes the following wording: “A potential first step in a gradual gas transition would be to allow consumers to choose between gas and electricity on existing buildings, but would require all electric in new constructions. This would prevent the establishment of new pipelines, thus avoiding future stranded assets. »Cut to the 2021 session of the Legislative Assembly.
Environmental groups fear that a permissive regulatory structure could lead to the construction of more natural gas infrastructure. In addition to expanding the state’s fossil fuel infrastructure, they say, this could come at a high cost, as climate goals require phasing out natural gas before new infrastructure can be paid for, creating this known as blocked assets. At the same time, as I mentioned, Southwest Gas is considering legislation for a pipeline replacement program. NV Energy, a northern Nevada natural gas supplier, made no comment when I asked about its position on natural gas and the climate plan’s call to action.
What happens to natural gas in the 2021 session will be an interesting and important question to watch, potentially predictive of how the state begins to tackle climate change. What will the governor do? And where will NV Energy land on the matter? Electrification is an opportunity for the public service. But at the same time, NV Energy supplies natural gas to customers in the North.
5. Water law and water realities: I’ll make it short. What are the talks about Nevada water like in a world where the Las Vegas pipeline is no longer the center of attention?
Like most southwestern states, Nevada faces challenges with groundwater management (I wrote about a few earlier this year). Across the state, each case is different. But the dynamics are often similar. There is more groundwater and streams on paper than there is water to circulate without permanently undermining ecosystems, sources and long-term water use . The situation is playing out everywhere in the West and regulators have few simple management tools.
While it’s interesting to watch what’s going on with water in the Legislature this session, Carson City lawmakers aren’t the only decision-makers here. The courts also play a major role. Several important cases are pending in the Nevada Supreme Court, including one that involves state authority over domestic wells and whether the state, with the support of a majority of local irrigators, can depart of traditional state water law enforcement. What is the influence of the courts in this area? Here’s a hint: the state appears to be proposing a constitutional amendment that would make the Court of Appeals the first court to review state decisions on water. District courts with locally elected judges are currently the first to hear cases.
6. Public land titles: Everyone is waiting for him. Environmental groups. Business groups in southern Nevada. For years, Clark County has worked with the Congressional delegation to craft a federal bill that would allow the ring around the Las Vegas Valley to extend onto public land. Clark County planners want to direct new growth south along the I-15 corridor to Ivanpah and the California border. To compensate for the new growth, previous versions of the legislation aimed to protect the land as wilderness or as designated conservation areas.
In a recent interview, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto confirmed that she plans to present a version of the Clark County Land Bill to Congress. Earlier versions of the legislation have been criticized for encouraging past growth patterns (growing up, not growing up) and have raised broader issues regarding sustainability, transportation, and climate resilience in a growing Las Vegas.
Did I mention that there are similar processes in other counties across the state?
I’m looking at you, Washoe County.