Nevada business leaders discuss climate action

RENO, Nev. — The debate over climate change has intensified over the past decade amid many of the hottest years on record, numerous extreme weather events and a surge of reports on global warming.

Attention to the issue by policymakers across the world — and increasingly heated rhetoric from skeptics of science — has brought the issue to the door of businesses across the U.S. in the form of environmental disclosures, carbon pledges and green investment.

Nevada, for one, announced its first comprehensive “State Climate Strategy” this month, and state and local business leaders are coming to the table to help put that thought into action and help the Silver State achieve its green goals.

For Nevada Sen. Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas, a strong advocate of environmental issues, there’s no other option.

“I believe that the climate crisis is the greatest threat facing our planet, our nation and our great state,” Brooks said during a Dec. 3 virtual conference hosted by the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce that explored innovative business to climate change. “And I also believe it’s our moral responsibility to fight it at every front. We owe it to our children and our children’s children.”

Brooks and others featured in the conference feel Nevada has the resources and leaders it takes to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 — the ultimate goal of the state’s climate action plan.

“We have an abundance of renewable resources,” said Brooks, noting solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower. “And our most important resource that we have here in the state of Nevada are hardworking and entrepreneurial, resilient Nevadans.”

Above all, the state’s climate strategy lays out a pathway for Nevada to achieve a cost-effective transition from natural gas and electrify the transportation sector, the leading source of greenhouse gas emission in the state, according to previous reports.

Brooks feels Nevada is the “best-situated” state in the country for decarbonizing its transportation system, pointing to the fact the only vehicles manufactured in the Silver State are electric vehicles; most Nevadans have a commute “within the range of even the most affordable electric vehicles”; and the state has “North America’s only lithium mine.”

Reno-based Lithium Nevada Corp. — a wholly owned subsidiary of Vancouver, Canada-based Lithium Americas Corporation — is still in the process of permitting the $1.3 billion Thacker Pass lithium mine and processing facility in rural Humboldt County, near Orovada, to possibly break ground in 2021, according to previous reports.

With that in mind, Tyre Gray, president of the Nevada Mining Association, said the mining industry plays a “critical role” in Nevada’s green future.

“We’re going to provide the raw materials,” Gray said. “But it’s important that we make sure that our matters of operation are in such a way that are environmentally friendly and aligns with our environmental goals.”

Gray said the mining association recently supported an initiative to allow for solar panels to be part of remediation.

“It’s hard to think that that was not a permitted use for remediation, but we’re in the process of getting that approved,” he added.

The Dec. 3 panel also discussed the city of Reno’s sustainability and climate action plan, which published in 2019 and noted Reno is growing hotter quicker than any city in the U.S., with its annual average temperature rising more than 7 degrees over the past 50 years.

City councilmember Naomi Duerr said a key element of the plan is working with various industries to use less energy in their buildings and advocate for preserving and expanding Reno’s urban forest.

Notably, in 2016, Duerr launched a city program called “ReLEAF Reno” to educate the community on the benefits of an increased tree canopy.

“Our goal there is to double the number of trees in Reno, so that we can help address the climate change and the great increase of temperature that Reno has experienced,” Duerr said.

Duerr said companies that even make simple changes like installing LED lights are not only helping the environment but also “helping their bottom line.”

“LED lights might cost a little bit up front, that’s all they’re looking at,” she said. “But they’re not understanding the long-term savings for their businesses.”

Meanwhile, efforts to diversify and create new green jobs that benefit both the economy and the environment is working in the Silver State’s favor.

Attracting companies in clean energy and sustainability to greater Reno-Sparks has been a major focus of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada over the past decade, said CEO Mike Kazmierski — an effort underscored with the Dec 8 announcement that Southern California-based TerraScale has plans for a $3 billion clean energy project east of Reno in Churchill County.

Kazmierski said while Reno-Sparks continues to put itself on the map as the “place to be” in the clean energy sector, the region has to simultaneously build a skilled workforce.

“We push the STEM skills, which will ultimately allow for the talent to grow and fill the jobs in the companies we’re bringing in,” Kazmierski said.

Gray agreed that investing in STEM education is vital for the state to boost its climate action.

“Being able to educate our young folks in order to occupy the jobs of the future will be really important,” he said.

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