On the Record: Where gubernatorial candidates stand on mandate to boost renewable energy, fight climate change
The nation’s environmental and energy policies have come under the microscope ever since President Trump stepped into office.
The billionaire commander-in-chief repeatedly talked about undoing Obama-era environmental regulations on the campaign trail, and he has largely made good on that promise. He kissed goodbye to the Paris Climate Accord and has taken steps to phase out the Clean Power Plan.
The decisions have drawn heavy criticism and some praise — mostly depending on where people fall on the political spectrum. Some states have decided to keep pressing forward with an aggressively climate-conscious agenda even without the federal government mandating it through those two agreements.
Even closer to home, Nevadans will be taking energy issues into their own hands at the ballot box this fall. They’ll weigh in on whether the monopoly electricity market will be opened, and may decide whether the state should require energy companies use a higher percentage of renewable energy.
Governors play a major role in these environmental policies through vetoes, proposing their own legislation or issuing executive orders. So The Nevada Independent surveyed the gubernatorial candidates to clarify their stances on the environmental and energy issues, in hopes of offering a more complete picture of where they would take the state.
Here’s a look at their positions, at least for the time being:
1) Do you support or oppose a ballot measure that would raise Nevada's Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50 percent by 2030?
In one of his final actions on legislation from the 2017 session, Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a bill that would have required utility companies to draw 40 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. The ambitious bill had been scaled back from an even more aggressive version, and would have sped up the state’s current plan to use 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.
Sandoval said he was rejecting the bill because there was uncertainty about how it would interact with the state’s possible move from a monopoly energy market to a competitive retail market. But recently, a group announced plans to bring the RPS issue up for a statewide vote in 2018.
Supporters of the so-called Initiative to Promote Renewable Energy will need to gather nearly 113,000 signatures to qualify it for a statewide vote. If it doesn’t qualify for the ballot, Democratic Assemblyman Chris Brooks, who sponsored the original bill in 2017, said he plans to bring it up again in the 2019 legislative session.
Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the perceived Republican frontrunner, did not respond to inquiries from The Nevada Independent about his position on the RPS ballot measure in the past week, or when he was asked a similar question in January.
However, the “issues” page of his campaign website appears to make an oblique reference to mandates such as the RPS (his campaign has not answered whether the statement indeed refers to the RPS).
“Too often, the heavy hand of government is used to try to force particular energy solutions on the entire population,” he said on the site. “I will also oppose efforts to impose or expand costly and burdensome mandates on energy providers, which only lead to higher prices that hurt Nevada’s families, and have a particularly damaging impact on those with lower incomes.”
Republican Treasurer Dan Schwartz did not respond to inquiries from The Nevada Independent this week, but was enthusiastic about efforts to transition to more renewable energy in the past. In an interview on Sept. 4, he expressed support for a bill that Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed that would push Nevada’s RPS higher over the next few decades.
“I’d love it. I think it’s a little optimistic,” he said. “I think at some point we have got to go to renewable energy, whether it’s wind, whether it’s solar.”
He suggested the government has a role in making that happen: “I think we have to encourage solar and wind.”
His campaign manager later clarified that Schwartz does not support energy mandates, which were a key element of the RPS bill that was vetoed.
Republican Jared Fisher said he supports the ballot measure 100 percent.
“We can actually do better,” he said. “Honestly, I think it is too low. While the RPS has gradually increased since its inception, and has incremental increases built into it, it’s time to push even harder to accelerate the increases.”
He also framed it as a way to bring people together amid a highly polarized political climate.
“Nevada is the Saudi Arabia of [renewable energy] and as governor I am not going to throw this opportunity away,” he said. “Germany, China, and India are driving down these costs for us but they are also taking jobs from Nevadan’s. I want Nevadan’s to have those jobs, savings, and clean energy. I can’t think of a better way to bring a divided party system together by drilling this initiative home.”
Democratic Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani threw her support behind the measure.
“I fully support this initiative,” she said. “Nevada has incredible opportunities to develop wind, solar and geothermal technologies. Investing in renewable energy is a win-win-win: diversifying the economy and creating tens of thousands of good jobs across the state, improving health through cleaner air and tackling climate change.”
Democratic Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak was first during this campaign to widely broadcast his support for the newly announced ballot measure.
“Steve will cement Nevada’s position as a leader in renewable energy by supporting the ballot initiative that will require electric suppliers to provide at least 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources, like solar, wind and geothermal energy by 2030. His ultimate goal is to power the state with 100 percent renewable energy,” the campaign said in a statement, adding that “Steve has a record of bringing solar projects to Nevada. His county district alone is on track to provide 500 megawatts of power from renewable energy.”
2) Do you support or oppose President Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord?
The Accord, which aims to limit the rise of the average global temperature and help developing countries move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, was crafted with representatives from 196 countries. The agreement’s provisions kicked in in November 2016, after a critical mass of countries formally signed on.
Trump announced in June that the U.S. would cease to participate in the agreement, saying it would undermine the U.S. economy and put the nation at a permanent disadvantage.
Republican candidates Laxalt and Schwartz didn’t respond to a question about whether they approved of the move.
Fisher said he’s ambivalent on the decision, which he says does not matter.
“Trump’s reason for this measure is to give way for oil/gas companies to develop on public lands, not to deal with climate change,” Fisher said. “But with [renewable energy] so inexpensive, there is no reason for it. This will reduce CO2 naturally. More importantly, as it relates to Nevada, we don’t have oil or gas resources. We only have sun, wind, and geothermal. DC can haggle over this, I will deal with Nevadans.”
Giunchigliani said she opposed Trump’s move.
“The Trump administration is willfully ignoring the reality of climate change and undermining America’s leadership on this critical issue on the world stage,” she said. “The Paris Climate Accord is a crucial step for clean energy worldwide and it is shameful that we are now the only country in the world not to be part of this agreement. I will not sit on the sidelines while the Trump administration fails to act. As governor, I will stand with other mayors and governors and join the US Climate Alliance to ensure that at the state level we are doing our part.”
Sisolak said he wants Nevada to adhere to the accord, even if the U.S. isn’t doing so federally.
“Despite the Trump Administration’s short-sighted decision to back out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Steve will sign a pledge to keep Nevada on track to meet its standards,” his campaign said.
3) Do you support or oppose President Trump's decision to phase out the Clean Power Plan?
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency in October proposed repealing an Obama-era regulation called the Clean Power Plan. The plan was introduced in 2015 as a way to curb climate change by requiring states to set pollution-reduction standards on power plants. President Trump, however, had vowed to undo some of his predecessor’s environmental regulations if elected.
Two months into his presidency, Trump issued an executive order that initiated a review of the Clean Power Plan, which led to the repeal proposal. His administration has said the phase-out stands to reduce regulatory burdens while protecting jobs and strengthening energy security.
When Sisolak rolled out his environmental platform last week, he committed to forging ahead with the standards established by the Clean Power Plan.
“I will sign a pledge to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement and the Clean Power Plan because I refuse to let the Trump administration roll back the progress we’ve made,” he said in a campaign video. “The next generation deserves to breathe unpolluted air, drink clean water and enjoy our natural treasures.”
His primary opponent, Giunchigliani, has struck a similar tone. Giunchigliani told The Nevada Independent that she opposes Trump’s decision.
“The Trump administration’s concerted attack on clean energy is an attack on Nevada’s economic future, and I absolutely oppose the decision to abandon the Clean Power Plan,” she said in a statement. “Just as with the Paris Accord, I am committed to upholding Nevada’s goals under the CPP regardless of federal inaction."
Laxalt and Schwartz did not respond to requests for comment. Two years ago, Laxalt filed a brief with the Washington, D.C.-based federal Court of Appeals enumerating concerns with the Clean Power Plan. Federal overreach was chief among his concerns. He argued the plan infringes on the Clean Air Act, which gives states the decision-making authority to decide pollution-related standards for existing power plants.
“We are repeatedly seeing more federal regulation that is less tied to the actual text of the laws that federal agencies claim is the basis for their rules,” Laxalt wrote in a statement at the time. “With the Plan’s sweeping impact on our nation’s economy and costs estimated to be in the billions, it is important for Nevadans to continue to push back on unaccountable federal agencies that impose their own rules beyond the text of the laws passed by Congress.”
Fisher said he opposes the president’s plan to end the Clean Power Plan because he believes the initiatives it contains could help the Clark County School District “save millions in energy costs.” The school district is considering leaving NV Energy’s territory and contracting with another power provider.
4) Do you support or oppose Question 3?
A ballot initiative that could end NV Energy’s monopoly on the state’s electrical market has emerged as one of the biggest — and most expensive — issues this election year.
Question 3, as it’s known, requires two stamps of approval by Nevada voters before implementing an amendment to the state’s constitution that would deregulate the energy market. The initiative passed on a 72-to-28 percent margin in 2016, but the opposition, led by NV Energy, has launched a mighty campaign against it this go-around.
As for where the gubernatorial candidates stand on the issue, it’s a mixed bag.
Laxalt sits on the Governor’s Committee on Energy Choice, a 25-member group that’s examining details related to the initiative and forming recommendations if it passes. The attorney general told The Nevada Independent earlier this year that he supports Question 3.
Last year, Laxalt also spoke in favor of energy deregulation at a National Energy Marketers Association meeting in Las Vegas.
“With the absence of a competitive energy market in Nevada, we deny our customers the freedom to lower their electricity costs,” he said, according to a recording of the event obtained by The Nevada Independent. “And that is why we must open our energy market to consumers both large and small.”
Schwartz didn’t respond to inquiries this week, but in the past, he said he would likely support the ballot initiative if it made economic sense. He couldn’t recall how he voted on it in 2016, though.
Sisolak also has wavered on the topic, saying he has “remaining concerns” mostly related to how it could affect jobs, energy rates and rural communities. He also wants to see the recommendations put forward by the governor’s commission before taking a firm position on it.
Giunchigliani previously said she would vote yes on the ballot measure in 2018 but when asked again this week, she toned down her reply. The Clark County commissioner said she supported the initiative in 2016 — largely propelled by what she described as the GOP’s “gutting of the state’s solar policies” — but didn’t commit to a certain vote in November.
“This year, I will be closely monitoring whether this is the best way to further our clean energy policies and goals,” she said in a statement. “Regardless, we must pass the Initiative to Promote Renewable Energy, which will increase the amount we invest in clean energy.”
Fisher said he 100 percent supports Question 3 and rebutted the opposition’s criticisms.
“This measure will ultimately drive down market prices,” he said in a statement. “The argument that Nevadans would be burdened by costs to upgrade the grid is weak. That may hold true for a short period of time but market competition will lay it to rest and we will see prices drop below 11.8 cents (kilowatt hour).”
This story has been updated with more information about Chris Giunchigliani's stance on Question 3.
Disclosure: NV Energy, Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.