Nevada Newsmakers

Sisolak's 'Clean Cars Nevada' faces many challenges, says state director of conservation & natural resources

News - June 25, 2020

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has announced plans to adapt regulations that would require a larger percentage of cars sold in the state to be electric -- as a way to cut back on air pollution.

Under Sisolak"s "Clean Cars Nevada" initiative, six-to-eight percent of vehicles that auto dealers offer for sale for the 2025 model year must be electric. It comes after a report released earlier this year by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection that showed the state's transportation sector is expected to be the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions through 2030.

"This is one of our first steps in taking more aggressive action on climate change in Nevada," Brad Crowell, director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said on Nevada Newsmakers Thursday.

The plan, based on California emission standards, includes near-zero or zero emission standards by 2050, Crowell told host Sam Shad.

Yet there are many roadblocks to overcome to get to the 2025 benchmark.

The first is affordability.

Electric cars are usually more expensive than gas-powered vehicles and many Nevadans may not be able to afford them, especially in the current environment with the state's 25 percent unemployment rate. Base prices for 2018 electric cars range from $22,500 for a Nissan Leaf to more than $72,000 for Tesla Model X, according to a survey by EnergySage.

"So the front-end cost of an electric vehicle is still higher than a conventional vehicle," Crowell said, adding: "That front-end cost is mitigated over time with savings on fuel and savings on repairs and things like that."

A 2018 study from the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute backs up Crowell's claim, finding the average annual cost to operate an electrical vehicle (EV) in the U.S. is $485 but $1,117 for a gas-operated model.

The Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Association said in a statement that consumer affordability must be a priority in the "Clean Car Nevada" plan. That group raised concerns that the expense of electric cars will force many Nevadans to keep older, less efficient cars. That, the auto dealers contend, would hurt efforts for clean air.

Yet Crowell pushed back on that notion.

"I don't think it will result in older cars staying on the road necessarily because the benefits of being able to drive a cleaner vehicle include benefits to the environment and benefits to their pocketbooks as well, in terms of not having to pay as much for fuel, or in repair costs with electric vehicles," Crowell said.

Crowell, however, stressed the need for the auto dealers' input in crafting the regulations that go along with "Clean Car Nevada." The NDEP is expected to host public workshops to create regulations in 2021.

"The way we are going to look to adopt this regulation is through a robust process with stakeholders, like the Franchised Auto Dealers and others, so they can help design a regulatory program that fits with Nevada, even if it stems from a California law. Eleven or 12 other states that have adopted regulations have tailored it to their needs and we plan to do the same.

"We can collectively get there," Crowell said. "This regulation is not going to limit consumer choice but will expand consumer choice."

Crowell hopes the state comes up with an "financial incentive" to help consumers afford electric vehicles. However, Nevada's tax structure makes that difficult.

"It is a little bit of a challenge in Nevada to come up with financial incentives for consumers to buy EVs because of our unique tax structure," Crowell said. "It is a little regressive, we don't have a state income tax obviously. And so we are going to have to be creative in that regard."

He hopes others will help with the needed creativity.

"I am looking for input on that creative solution from folks in the state Legislature and the stakeholders like the dealers and the manufacturers in order to find a way to really support the economy that we are looking to build here in Nevada for electric vehicles," he said.

Nevada's decision to move toward tougher emissions standards comes while California is locked in a legal battle with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the Trump Administration's push to end the Clean Air Act's exception that allows the state to set its own, tougher emission standards and allows other states to pass regulations that mirror California's standards.

Nevada wants to see how things "play out" legally, Crowell said.

"Full adoption won't happen until next year and we'll be able to see that play out, if the EPA holds its ground (against California) or the leadership of the EPA changes," Crowell said. "It is also a point to note that (Nevada) Attorney General (Aaron) Ford has joined with other states to litigate the revocation of the California waiver as well as revocation of the Obama Clean Cars standards. So we have positioned ourselves, politically, to be on this side of it and that's where we are going to try to go."

Although California holds the legal hook that allows Nevada to push for stronger environmental regulations, the reforms of the Silver State align better other states, Crowell said.

"Yes, California's ability to set its own standards is what gives other states the ability to do this," he said. "But what we are really doing is following states like Colorado, which recently adopted a low-emission and zero-emission vehicle regulations and then states like New Mexico and Minnesota who are doing the same things. And we're kind of having a fun race between those three states to see who can get there first or get there at all.

"Those are the states we align ourselves with, more than California," Crowell said. "California is just the legal hook to this."

The Sisolak administration has been criticized by some for rolling out the clean-car plan during the current COVID pandemic and subsequent recession.

Crowell gave a simple, "no," when asked if there was a worse time to roll out the clean-car initiative.

Yet he added: "But there's nothing about the times we live in now to make it ideal for doing much else beside addressing the problems at hand. But if we only address that, then we are going to stagnate as a state and that is not the thing to do."

The move toward zero emissions could also prompt various social changes, Crowell said.

"Many states have done innovative and novel things like having EV car shares," he said. "You don't have to own the car but you can use it as a share model. And having utilities like NV Energy work with us to help provide charging options in multi-family units and apartments complexes is also important because if you have an electric vehicle and no place to plug it in, it is not going to be good.

"So we are looking at this with a holistic approach of having the infrastructure to support what consumers are purchasing and driving and also trying to push for smarter urban planning and growth. We need to be a little bit smarter on how we package our economic development and our growth and population."

Better public transportation is part of that holistic approach, Crowell said.

"Looking at this standard for passenger vehicles is important," he said. "But it also needs to be paired with more mass-transit options. I think we are going to see more tele-work and things like that coming out of the COVID environment, and new ways to work from various places. But there are are huge benefits for those low-income and disadvantaged populations in terms of improving air quality and limiting impacts on our public health with vehicle emissions."

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