Advocates push to keep climate change atop minds of Nevada voters, presidential candidates

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Yasmina Chavez

Students protest during a climate change walkout at Advanced Technologies Academy Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. The students joined millions around the globe protesting for urgent action on climate change.

Mon, Dec 2, 2019 (2 a.m.)

Climate crisis has been one of the most relevant issues for the field of Democratic presidential contenders. While candidates have outlined different responses to climate change, all of them have stressed the need for action.

Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, and Matt McKnight, the director of the league’s Change the Climate 2020 program, and Andy Maggi, executive director of the Nevada Conservation League, sat down recently with the Sun to talk about pushing the climate issue forward in 2020 and how Nevada has taken a role in making the issue a salient one.

Just to start, what’s the current status of the climate debate in the 2020 campaign? Is it to your liking?

Karpinski: In polling, climate has been in the top three: CNN had it at No. 1, the Des Moines Register had it tied for first. We did a poll ourselves in the four early states plus California, (and) iit tied for first with health care. We knew the issue was breaking in a way that more people understood. Then the challenge is, can we get candidates to take it more seriously?

We basically said we had three goals. One, make sure everyone has a bold, aggressive, ambitious plan. I was just with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who got in the race and set the gold standard on climate plans. Almost every other candidate since then has basically adopted some version of that.

Another challenge is, are candidates actually talking about it with voters? I think that’s uneven. I think we’re part way there, we need to do more. Our third piece is when a candidate gets asked the question “What are you going to do on day one?,” they’ll have a good answer.

We have this report we just put out called "250 Days," which looks at governors around the country who, since January, have actually made progress on climate change. Nevada is one of the 11 states that’s featured in there. Elections are a strategy to get results, and now we’re getting results. Nevada has one of the best clean energy standards in the country as a result of both winning elections and electing people who get this kind of stuff done.

Is public transportation an issue that you’re following and what are you looking for in candidates’ plans that may address it?

Maggi: In Nevada, emissions from transportation are the No. 1 source of carbon emissions in the state. If we are going to do our part in addressing climate change, that has to be part of that conversation and part of that equation.

Also, when you look at sort of the other things that we care about that is impacting local communities negatively, transportation is the No. 1 source of those pollutants.

During the last legislative session, the Legislature started to take some really strong steps in making sure transportation is part of the conversation. They passed a bill basically tasking themselves with doing a study over the interim about how we’re going to incorporate more electrification into our transportation system. They have a study on funding mechanisms for transportation and they have a bill that is actually requiring the Department of Motor Vehicles to track miles traveled per vehicle as part of those studies, so that we know what type of cars are on the road and how many miles they are driving so we can design better resource structures for transportation.

Our role in that is to make sure whatever system of resource allocation gets set up for transportation is fair for all users, and includes transit options and addresses electrification.

We have to look at what our policy response is going to be to how we get more electric vehicles on the road and how we increase the amount of funding going into transit. Recently, the governor and the attorney general signed Nevada on to the lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of California’s ability to set emissions standards. That’s very important for Nevada because one of the ways from a policy and regulatory standpoint that we can start to address that transportation question is to link our emissions standards to California’s emissions standards.

Karpinski: Obviously, Trump’s rolling back what the Obama administration did to make cars more fuel efficient. Therefore, California needs to lead the way again — they’re doing that, and Trump’s trying to stop them from doing that. Almost every candidate has an ambitious infrastructure package, and front and center is investing in things like public transit and bike lanes, which people love. It’s incredibly popular. We talk about clean energy jobs of the future. Building that new infrastructure, new public transit systems, grids and charging stations — all those are jobs of the future.

How do you react to people who who reject mainstream climate science?

Maggi: The thing I’ll say about Nevada and why we’re possibly a roadmap for how this could look in the future, the renewable portfolio expansion bill passed the Legislature this year unanimously. The community solar axis bill passed with near-unanimous support. The money for electric school busses was near-unanimous. In Nevada, we’re starting to see that thaw. Republicans are voting for clean energy action in the state.

We’ve seen in Nevada even Republicans are having to respond to the very clear sense that Nevadans know that climate change is real, it’s impacting our communities and we need to take action on it.

Does the fact that these state bills have passed on a bipartisan basis have anything to do with the fact there is no real history of fossil fuel industry here?

Maggi: I think maybe. I think that’s going to get tested here as the Trump administration continues to auction off parcels of public land for oil and gas leasing. We’ve got a couple million acres now, there’s a new lease that’s just been announced for November, so they’re going to keep trying to make oil and gas exploration happen here in Nevada. That might be part of it, but I also think that even Republicans see how important and how beneficial clean energy can be to our state.

In a lot of ways, former Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval built his roadmap out of the economic recession by looking at new technologies and clean energies as a new industry for the state, and I think Nevadans saw that and Republicans saw that. Even if they want to be noncommittal on the climate piece of it, they get the economic piece of it.

Karpinski: We used to call Sandoval the greenest Republican governor in the country. Republican leadership at the federal level is horrible because it is, in essence, bought and sold by the fossil fuel industries. That’s not as true in a lot of these states, and therefore the bipartisan tradition to be for clean air, clean water and a healthy planet is still alive in many states.

Is there an importance in climate change plans to help workers in the fossil fuel industry land on their feet?

Karpinski: If you’re there in West Virginia, coal plants are shutting down and people lose their jobs. Part of it is saying for the next 3-5 years, we’re going to take care of you in whatever way that means. We’re also going to make sure they don’t take away your pension, look at job opportunities of the future, and make sure that new jobs are labor jobs as much as possible.

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