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The Nevada Independent

Nevada’s clean truck and bus voucher program still stuck in neutral after a year

Lack of clarity on how federal funding can be spent is holding it up, state officials say.
Amy Alonzo
Amy Alonzo

An effort to replace medium- and heavy-duty trucks with zero-emission vehicles is stalled nine months after Nevada lawmakers passed a bill to use federal funds to purchase the new vehicles.

State officials estimate the Clean Trucks and Buses Incentive program, codified in AB184, won’t be up and running until late this year or early next year.

State officials say that unclear federal guidelines are to blame for the delay, but supporters of the legislation are growing frustrated — especially given that transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions in the state.

“I’ve heard from several businesses who cannot wait to take advantage of this program and are actually holding off on some of their purchasing decisions until this incentive is available,” said Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), the bill’s sponsor. “It is really disappointing how far behind we are in getting this program rolled out.” 

AB184 created the Clean Trucks and Buses Incentive Program, which would offer base incentives ranging from $20,000 to$175,000 to businesses willing to replace their delivery trucks, buses and other heavy- and medium-duty trucks with zero-emission vehicles. Additional incentives for certain businesses, such as independent truck drivers, school districts and those owned by minorities or veterans, were also written into the bill.

The bill passed with bipartisan support and was signed by Gov. Joe Lombardo in June, with the intent that it would start in January as a partnership between the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP). NDEP would administer the program, using millions in federal funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law received by the state transportation department to help reduce carbon emissions in Nevada.

But the program’s regulatory framework is still being outlined, and there are no immediate plans to roll it out, according to state officials.

They say the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the agency allocating funding to Nevada for the program, has been slow to provide direction on how the money can and can’t be spent, with many questions remaining about how the bill’s parameters fit under the federal funding umbrella. If those guidelines were clearer, the project would be underway.

“We have very specific questions, and they are pointing very broadly,” according to Sondra Rosenberg, deputy director of administration for the state department of transportation. “They’re just pointing to the regulations and saying, ‘if it meets the federal regulations, you’re fine.’”

The state is setting aside the money earmarked for the Clean Trucks and Buses Incentive Program while it waits for clarification, she said.

But supporters of the bill have concerns over the delayed timeline for the program. There’s been a lack of communication about its status, they say, and each month that passes further inhibits the state’s ability to reduce its carbon emissions.

“There’s a real lack of transparency and open information about what’s holding this up,” said Aaron Kressig, transportation electrification manager at Western Resource Advocates and one of the drafters of the legislation. “NDOT had some concerns about whether this was an allowable program, and it seems like those should be alleviated by now. It’s hard to know what their concerns are because we aren’t hearing anything.”

Behind the bill

Nevada’s carbon emissions have declined since their peak in 2005 as the state shifted from primarily coal-based electricity to more natural gas and clean energy generation. But at the same time, other emission categories are rising, and through 2043, emissions from the transportation-related sector are forecast to continue being the largest contributor of greenhouse gasses in Nevada. The state is likely to fall 3.5 percent short of its 2025 goal to reduce carbon emissions and 17 percent short of its 2030 goal. 

According to the 2023 State of the Air report from the American Lung Association, Las Vegas and the Reno-Carson City area have some of the unhealthiest particle pollution, carbon monoxide and ozone levels in the country. Both Clark and Washoe counties received grades of “F” for air quality.

In 2021, $6.4 billion in federal funding — the Carbon Reduction Program — was authorized for states to develop and implement carbon reduction strategies and projects. Nevada will receive an estimated $57 million in federal funds during the first five years of the program, with about $4 million annually diverted to the Clean Trucks and Buses Program via AB184.

Bill drafters viewed the federal funding as seed money to get the program going, with the intent of using additional federal funding to scale up the program, Kressig said. 

When the bill was drafted, the Nevada Conservation League called AB184 “a commonsense bill,” especially considering that “even though medium and heavy-duty vehicles make up only 5 percent of vehicles on the road, they’re responsible for 30 percent of the sector's carbon pollution.”

The bill was also supported by Western Resource Advocates, the Electrification Coalition, more than a dozen businesses across the state and more than a dozen health officials from across the state.

“This kind of replacement program has a significant local impact when it comes to reducing not just greenhouse gasses but air pollution locally,” said NDEP Deputy Administrator Danilo Dragoni. “There is and there will be a significant impact on the local population.”

What’s the holdup?

Before it was signed into law, NDOT raised objections about the bill, including that it would detract from other projects funded through Carbon Reduction Program money, such as signal alignments to reduce idling and the addition of bike lanes and sidewalks, and that it excluded state government vehicles, such as NDOT’s more than 800 medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, from eligibility.

Watts said those concerns were addressed before the bill was signed into law, partially by Lombardo’s signature approving AB262, the Clean Fleets law, which helps state agencies add more electric and hybrid vehicles to their fleets. 

Once the bill was signed, the program’s launch was hindered by the Federal Highway Administration, according to Kressig and Rosenberg. When lawmakers and state officials reached out to the administration to ensure the program could comply with federal provisions, the agency repeatedly failed to answer, they said. 

The federal administration also did not reply to requests for comment from The Nevada Independent before publication. After publication, the agency submitted this statement:

"FHWA has provided ongoing support to the Nevada Department of Transportation in its pursuit of implementing AB 184 (Nevada Clean Trucks and Buses Incentive Program). FHWA is prepared to provide technical assistance in NDOT’s responsibility to ensure the program complies with applicable requirements and Federal laws."

Watts said while he and members of Western Resource Advocates didn’t talk with the federal administration, NDOT was in contact with the administration while the bill was being drafted and “major amendments” were made to the bill to address concerns about how the federal funds would be administered and to ensure funding existed to front the program.

The Legislative Counsel Bureau also weighed in on potential legal and administrative barriers, Watts said. 

But after the bill was passed, Nevada officials and lawmakers were then told that the state program wasn’t eligible for federal funding; when pushed, federal officials did an about face, stating it was eligible — but that they’d need to work with NDOT on compliance.

With the state department of transportation not providing updates, it’s hard to tell if the program has any forward momentum, Kressig said. 

“While it’s clear the FHWA has been the biggest barrier to moving quickly, NDOT’s lack of urgency has been infuriating,” he added.

Although the federal funding is only allocated for five years, the state has longer to use it, Rosenberg said. If getting the Clean Trucks and Buses Incentive Program off the ground takes a little longer than planned, “it won’t diminish the amount allocated for it,” she said.

“We’re not going to put the money toward anything else,” she added. “So, whether we can start the incentive program this year or not, that money will be used for this purpose and this purpose only.”

She said due to the lack of specifics from the Federal Highway Administration she couldn’t pinpoint a date that the program might start. In a separate interview, Dragoni estimated the program should be up and running by late this year or early next year. Both Rosenberg and Dragoni doubled down that implementation of the program depends on the Federal Highway Administration, adding that internal conversations are ongoing about what the program’s framework will look like. 

“I’m really glad they are starting that process …they should come up with a draft and get feedback from auto dealers, the industry that wants to buy these vehicles,” Watts said. “The timeline I'm still disappointed in, but I'm glad to hear they are moving forward.” 

When asked why NDOT hasn’t been providing updates on the program, Rosenberg said that since it will ultimately be administered by NDEP, it is up to that agency to supply updates. NDEP has created a mass email list for people interested in following updates on the program.  

“We’re the mechanism for the funding. We don’t want to confuse people,” Rosenberg said. “They are the lead agency on it, so the updates will be coming from them.”

But internal conversations don’t keep program advocates and interested businesses in the loop, Kressig said.

“We just can’t sit around for another four months without hearing anything about it,” Kressig said. “It needs to happen this year, and if it’s going to happen this year, we need to get the ball rolling.

“We need NDOT to move this process along.” 

Dragoni said since federal funds are part of a reimbursement program, it is important to make sure the program designed by the state is eligible for full reimbursement.

“This is a first for all of us, for NDOT and NDEP and we are really trying to do our best to develop a good and working program for Nevada,” he added. “We believe there is enough time to develop, implement and use the funds.” 

Editors note: This story was updated at 10:10 on 4/10/24 to include a statement submitted from the Federal Highway Administration.


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