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Nevada off track to meet ‘aggressive’ net-zero carbon emission goals

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Environment
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An electric vehicle charging station.

Without changes, Nevada will not meet its ambitious greenhouse gas emission reduction targets over the coming decade and will fall far from the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

That shortfall was highlighted in the 2021 version of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection’s greenhouse gas emissions report, which was released Monday and marks the third such report since state lawmakers substantially revised reporting requirements in 2019 with an eye toward reducing carbon emissions.

The legislation sets a statewide greenhouse gas reduction goal of 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and zero or near-zero by 2050 — goals generally in line with the tenets of the Paris Climate Agreement, which Gov. Steve Sisolak pledged to follow in 2019.

The report does not take into account more recent state actions — including a recent major transmission and electric vehicle charging infrastructure bill or adoption of “clean car” standards —  and is likely affected by the national trend of emissions rising 6.2 percent in 2021 as COVID-19 restrictions eased and economic activity picked up after 2020, when emissions fell by a record 10 percent over the prior year.

Still, the report projects that Nevada is in line to fall about 5.5 percent short of its 2025 emission reduction goal, and 21.1 percent short of the 2030 goal. 

“It is still possible for Nevada to meet the 2025 goal if strategic, near term investments and policies are adopted,” the report states. “But Nevada is currently projected to fall well short of its 2030 goal for GHG emissions reductions unless more aggressive investment and policies are adopted in both the near and medium term.”

The report measures greenhouse gas emissions through the prism of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and uses a baseline of the state’s 2005 emission levels (when statewide emissions hit a peak of 60.3 metric tons). Projected emissions come from seven industry sectors: transportation, electricity generation, industry, residential and commercial, waste, agriculture, and a general category of land use, land use change and forestry.

Transportation continues to be the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, overtaking the electricity generation sector in 2015. The report also found that Nevada contributed 0.71 percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, despite having 0.94 percent of the population.

As required in the 2019 legislation, the report also outlines numerous policy suggestions and ideas for reducing emissions in the seven industry sectors. Many of the listed policies were included in past versions of the report, and are intended to offer a suite of options available to state leaders to combat climate change.

Notably, the list of policy options includes a version of California’s recently adopted standards aimed at moving 100 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales to be zero-emission by 2035. The state environmental protection division “plans to track” California’s regulatory process for adopting the policy, but notes “[a]doption and achievement of these more aggressive standards may require additional support to ensure access to [zero-emission vehicles] and charging infrastructure.”

Other new suggested policies include:

  • Integrate the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions — defined as the “monetary value of the net harm (or net benefit) to society associated with adding (or decreasing) an amount of GHG emissions to the atmosphere in a given year” — into planning for projects such as land use or regional transportation.
  • Require climate mitigation goals, including resilience to climate change and environmental justice, in “all State planning” and state-funded capital improvement projects.
  • Implement a “buy clean” procurement policy for state agencies that establish maximum allowable global warming potential thresholds for certain construction materials.
  • Establish a “state climate governance structure” to better coordinate climate change mitigation policy in the executive branch.
  • Require all new affordable housing developments to invest in net-zero emission technology and support the retrofitting of existing housing units for projects such as rooftop solar or vehicle charging.
  • Use low-carbon materials in new construction and retrofits, and establish “electric ready” requirement for homes to support electric vehicle charging, electric appliances and on-site solar and battery storage.
  • Explore financing options for clean energy investments, including a revolving loan program for state and local governments to improve energy efficiency ratings of existing government buildings. Other suggestions include loan programs with local credit unions for low-cost, long-term financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements in residential properties, and potential on-bill financing for energy efficiency improvements for residential or commercial properties.
  • Adopt “buy clean” standards, which are regulations or procurement policies for certain construction materials based on their global warming potential thresholds.
  • Take action on ozone-depleting substances including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), including tracking and reporting use of HFCs, enacting building codes that require use of low HFC-refrigerants and establishing limits on new and existing equipment such as stationary refrigeration or air conditioning.
  • Adopt more stringent controls on emissions from natural gas and oil exploration and production, including banning natural gas flaring (controlled burn of natural gas at the wellhead) and venting (direct release of natural gas into the atmosphere).
  • Establish and promote a statewide healthy soils program.

The report notes that state lawmakers and agencies have adopted three of the policies included in past reports, including adoption of “clean car” standards, closing the so-called “classic car” loophole and adopting appliance and equipment efficiency standards.The report did find the state is in line to meet its targeted Renewable Portfolio Standard (a minimum percentage of electricity sold every year in the state that must come from renewable sources) goals of 50 percent by 2030. Legislators unanimously approved moving the RPS to the 50 percent by 2030 standard in 2019, with voters sealing the same policy in the state constitution after the 2020 election.

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