Health and power

Election will tee up issue

At a Reno workshop on clean energy homes, Caroline Lowman checked out a literature table.

At a Reno workshop on clean energy homes, Caroline Lowman checked out a literature table.


The Clean Power Plan involves both energy and wellness

Candidates for the Nevada Legislature, if elected, will have to come to grips with a Trump decision to abandon the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, and decide whether to continue complying with it anyway. The lawmakers go into session in February, and depending on who is elected governor, they will have to either respond to executive branch proposals or draft their own.

The CPP was launched by President Obama on Aug. 3, 2015, acting under the U.S. Clean Air Act. The CPP called for cutting carbon pollution from power plants that threaten health and causes risks to the economy. Nevada then already had a considerable policy investment in reducing power plant pollution, and some Nevadans now want legislative candidates to say whether they will support implementing the CPP in the next legislative session, whether it remains in legal force or not.

“The Clean Power Plan would facilitate the creation of thousands of additonal jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy in Nevada,” said Southwest Energy Efficiency Project rep Tom Polikalas.

On Oct. 10, 2017, the Trump administration announced plans to repeal the plan, a process taking possibly two years.

After eight months study, two Harvard scientists reported in a Washington Post article that cancellation of the plan would increase particulate matter in the atmosphere, causing an estimated 36,000 deaths over the ensuing 10 years plus an estimated 630,000 respiratory ailments in children during that decade.

Without any study of the scientists’ work, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—then headed by Scott Pruitt—immediately issued a statement: “This is not a scientific article, it’s a political article. The science is clear. Under President Trump, greenhouse gas emissions are down.”

The statement was false. Greenhouse emissions did not fall after Trump took office. They rose.

In Nevada, Attorney General Adam Laxalt—now the GOP nominee for governor—said on Feb. 24, 2016 that he was filing a brief to support a court challenge to the CPP. In a written statement, he said, “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. 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.”

Democratic nominee for governor Steve Sisolak issued a statement on March 2: “Especially in light of the Trump Administration’s cuts to public lands, repeal of the Clean Power Plan and withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, it’s more important than ever to elect a governor who will protect our natural resources and invest in a clean energy future. The next generation deserves to breathe unpolluted air, drink clean water, and enjoy our natural treasures—and I’m committed to delivering that future.”

The Trump effort against the CPP angered many businesses. An array of corporations calling themselves Tech Amici filed a brief supporting the CPP against the court challenge Laxalt joined. They include Amazon and Apple, large corporate presences in Nevada. Their brief reads in part:

“Tech Amici have developed business practices to limit their environmental impact, including by ensuring that an ever-increasing portion of their electricity consumption comes from renewable sources. This commitment reflects Tech Amici’s belief that delaying action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth. … Renewable energy is less subject to price volatility than non-renewable energy; provides greater long-term cost certainty to its purchasers; and, in many parts of the United States, is available at prices comparable to or better than the current prices for other electricity options.”

Among businesspeople who do oppose the CPP are corporate polluters Charles and David Koch, who have long been supporters of Adam Laxalt’s political career. When Laxalt ran for attorney general in 2014, the Kochs provided money funneled through the Republican Attorney Generals Association, a campaign group then run by Scott Pruitt, later the scandal plagued-director of the U.S. Environmental Association who set in motion repeal of the Clean Power Plan for Donald Trump.

In November, Freedom Partners Action Fund, supported by the Kochs, began a $1 million TV and digital advertising campaign supporting Laxalt for governor. In June, the Kochs’ fund piled on another $1.5 million.

An environmental group, the Nevada Conservation League, responded by running ads critical of Laxalt’s environmental record, but with a lesser buy—$1.15 million.

In an unusual action, the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 9, 2016 put the CPP on hold while the court fight plays out, an action one science website said “shocked all legal observers.” (Some news entities reported the court’s action repealed the plan, which is incorrect.) The action caused concern at the appeals court level, where one judge in June said he was concerned that the Supreme Court stay was allowing the EPA to avoid regulating emissions.

Many state governments still moved forward with compliance with the CPP. In Nevada, plans for compliance were held in abeyance until the CPP goes back into legal effect, though state efforts that were in line with the CPP continued.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, who had distanced himself from Laxalt’s intervention in the court challenge, said Nevada would likely meet CPP’s deadlines or even exceed them.

“Nevada was well on its way to exceeding the expectations outlined in the Clean Power Plan prior to its inception and will remain on that path,” he said in a written statement. “Today’s announcement will not change the state’s approach to ensuring our energy future includes abundant clean and renewable energy choices for Nevada consumers.”

But Sandoval also avoided binding his administration to any timetable. The governor, who was once quoted calling renewable energy an “irresistible force,” found Assembly Bill 206 eminently resistible. It would have provided for Nevada to increase by 25 percent the electricity it gets from renewable sources by 2025, 40 percent by 2030. It would also have provided new incentives for energy storage solutions. Sandoval also vetoed Senate Bill 392, providing for a 200 megawatt solar project to go on line by 2023.

He vetoed 206 in spite of a letter from geothermal, solar and wind-power industry trade organizations asking him to sign it.

By the time Trump was appointed president, Nevada and other Western states were far along on renewable energy research and development and in reducing power plant-related emissions.

In Nevada during Harry Reid’s senatorship, Reid worked against coal with considerable zeal. Coal is a factor in asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, hospital admissions, premature deaths and lost work days. Reid blocked two coal-fired power plants in eastern Nevada, angering elected officials in the small counties who wanted the jobs, population growth and economic activity they offered.

Reid also helped facilitate the shutdown of most of the notoriously dirty Reid-Gardner plant in Moapa, which had an emission rate of more than 3,500 pounds per megawatt-hour of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury. The consequences of power plant pollutants could be seen in the fact that at the time of the shutdown a $4.3 million settlement was paid to the nearby Moapa Band of Paiutes for health problems.