As Trump administration backs off global warming fight, Nevada and other states take the reins

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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.

Fri, Nov 29, 2019 (2 a.m.)

At Gov. Steve Sisolak’s first State of the State address, he said he wouldn’t spend time debating the science behind climate change.

On the national level, however, the global warming debate is far from settled. Under President Donald Trump, the federal government has rolled back multiple environmental regulations instituted to fight climate change. But perhaps the most symbolic decision has been Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris accord on climate change, an international pact setting goals for countries looking to combat climate change.

The withdrawal has led to multiple states and U.S. municipalities signing on to resolutions backing the goals of the Paris accord, leaving leadership on the issue in their hands rather than the federal government.

“What Trump’s doing is totally regressive and doesn’t at all reflect the will or the political sensibilities of the American public,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The American public wants bold climate action. The American public believes in climate change.”

Andy Maggi, the executive director of the Nevada Conservation League, said that Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement was a moral abdication of leadership in the global community.

“Whether it’s expected or not, it’s an incredibly shortsighted and really harmful decision,” Maggi said.

Trump made good on a 2016 campaign promise to withdraw from the agreement on Nov. 4, when he served notice that the United States will begin the withdrawal process.

It was the earliest the administration was legally able to do so, as the agreement had to be in effect for three years before any signatory country could withdraw.

Earlier this year, in anticipation of the formal withdrawal of the United States from the agreement, Sisolak announced that Nevada would join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group of states that pledge to uphold the Paris accord.

“By joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, we are taking bold steps to ensure a better, healthier future for our children,” Sisolak said in announcing Nevada's move to the alliance. “With these ambitious goals and commitments to reduce our carbon footprint, I am determined to make Nevada part of the solution.”

Maggi said that Sisolak has wasted no time in taking a leadership position on fighting global warming..

“Just right off the bat, (Sisolak) linked us up to Paris,” Maggi said. “That means something. That’s not just a statement. It’s not just a document. That means real things.”

There are three “major commitments” in joining the alliance, according to the governor’s office. Nevada is committed to:

• Institute policies attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

• Track and report its progress to the international community in “appropriate settings.”

• Accelerate “new and existing policies” to cut down on carbon pollution and “promote clean energy” at all levels of government.

The Climate Alliance is made up of 24 states and Puerto Rico, with Montana the most recent to join in july. According to the figures released at the time, the alliance represents “55% of the U.S. population, an $11.7 trillion economy, and 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.”

Last week, Sisolak signed an executive order directing state agencies to assess strategies to succeed in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to standards set by state statute and the membership in the Climate Alliance.

“This executive order will ensure Nevada continues to promote ambitious carbon-reduction standards that will help tackle the devastating impacts of climate change while creating good, high-paying jobs for Nevadans,” Sisolak said in a statement.

Under the order, the governor’s administration will also produce a state climate strategy report that will, according to a release, “include recommendations to reduce carbon pollution from the electricity and transportation sectors, buildings, state operations and other relevant sectors.”

“Governor Sisolak is following through on his repeated promise to protect the futures of Nevadans and directly tackling the carbon pollution harming our communities,” Maggi said in a statement after the signing. “Conserving our energy and public land resources will help us achieve additional gains towards a carbon-free future.”

Donnelly said that while the Trump administration could attempt to intervene in state efforts to combat climate change, public support for the issue could come back to bite Republicans if it does so.

“The public overwhelmingly supports climate action, and so if Trump continues to do such actions and Republicans continue to pursue such things they do so at their own electoral peril.”

The continued effects of climate change give voters more reasons to vote against politicians that don't acknowledge its risks, he said.

“Every town that gets wiped off the map by a fire, every hurricane that completely cripples a state or a territory like Puerto Rico, is just another reason that Americans have to vote in favor of climate action and against people like Donald Trump.” Donnelly said.

Donnelly said that while the state had broad powers to react politically to the climate crisis, there continued to be measures that only the federal government can take.

"It's true," Donnelly said. “As far as making international treaties, setting international targets (and) ponying up the immense amounts of money that we need to be distributing around the developing world to help them transition.”

Maggi said that the federal government shouldn’t interfere with states’ work on climate change. “We want the federal government to be active and engaged in helping address climate change,” Maggi said. “If they’re not going to be active and engaged in helping to address it, at least let the states lead as they see fit and don’t limit those abilities.”

He said local and state governments were rejecting calls to ignore or put aside the climate issue as its effects get more prevalent.

“States across the country are saying, ‘No, this is a real issue.’ Governors are saying it. Local governments are saying it — mayors, county commissioners, city councilors,” Maggi said. “Everyone is saying ‘this is an issue that is real, this is an issue we have to address’ and it’s impacting us locally today.”

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