Gov. Joe Lombardo focused on renewable energy and natural gas, sensible policy

Democratic state lawmakers in 2019 passed SB254, which directed the state to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (compared to a 2005 baseline) by 28 percent by 2025 and 45 percent by 2030, ultimately reaching near-zero emissions by 2050.

In 2020, former Gov. Steve Sisolak’s administration released a statewide climate strategy that laid out aggressive strategies intended to lead Nevada toward a cleaner climate.

A year into his governorship, Gov. Joe Lombardo is pursuing a different track. Lombardo, a Republican, has pulled Sisolak’s climate strategy offline, issued an executive order explicitly setting the state’s energy policy to focus on electrification and a continued use of natural gas and removed Nevada from a cohort of states committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Climate agreement.

All the while, the state has quietly been developing a new, and different, climate plan using federal dollars that could allow Nevada access to a much larger pot of money aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“The state is in a really great position,” Governor’s Office of Energy Director Dwayne McClinton said in an interview with The Nevada Independent.

Nevada is still reducing its carbon emissions, he said, while simultaneously embracing renewable energy and natural gas.

While the new climate plan aimed at accessing the federal dollars is being developed, there is still no publicly accessible strategy guiding the state — and officials are mum as to when the Sisolak-era climate plan will be revived, only clarifying that the two plans are different.

Nevada is not the only state without an active climate adaptation plan. But environmental watchdog groups say removing the climate strategy was a step backward because the state is failing to meet its carbon reduction goals.

Distinct initiatives, different timelines 

In early 2023, the state received $3 million in federal funding to develop a priority climate action plan. Intended to outline ways to quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a focus on low-income and disadvantaged communities, there has been little fanfare from the governor’s office about the grant since the state announced receiving the funding. A presentation on the plan was held in August and two workshops were held this month.

The timeline is tight — the plan must be turned in to the Environmental Protection Agency by March. 

As a condition of the federal grant, the state must also draft another plan that includes longer-term goals for greenhouse gas reductions. That plan is due to the federal government by summer 2025, and a status report detailing updates, metrics and next steps is due in 2027. 

The new plans are being drafted by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) and the Governor’s Office of Energy and are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide, improve air quality and create jobs, said Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spokeswoman Jenny Jackson. Completing the new plans will allow Nevada to apply for part of $4.6 billion in federal Climate Pollution Reduction Grants.

Despite apparent similarities, Jackson confirmed that the new climate plans being drafted are separate from the original Nevada State Climate Strategy, which will remain in what she called “draft” mode while the new plan is developed. The new plans can “complement and inform the Nevada State Climate Strategy,” she wrote in an email. However, “they are distinct initiatives, with differing timelines for implementation.”

The old climate strategy is more of an overall blueprint for the state, said Danilo Dragoni, deputy administrator for NDEP, while the new plan being drafted is a step that will set Nevada up to potentially receive a chunk of federal funding — the $4.6 billion is only open to entities that submit an initial plan to the federal government this year. 

‘Under construction’

When the old climate plan was taken offline last March, it was intended to be a temporary measure, Elizabeth Ray, communications director for Lombardo, told The Nevada Independent at the time. Ray did not respond to multiple emails requesting an update on its status. 

In July, the previous public information officer for the Governor’s Office of Energy told The Indy that the strategy is “currently being reviewed and will be revised with public and stakeholder input” and that those efforts were being led by NDEP.

Jackson said in her email that NDEP staff “can’t speak to the state climate plan.” She declined to say why and did not respond to requests for clarification.

In a phone call with The Indy, Dragoni said the state climate strategy is a shared effort with multiple owners and that no one person or agency can speak for it. NDEP’s role is to provide technical support for greenhouse gas mitigation and has just a partial role in the state’s climate planning efforts, he added. 

Dragoni said public input on the new priority climate action plan will be used to inform and reshape the mothballed state climate strategy, but focus on the old strategy is on the sidelines as the state develops the plan that could unlock federal funding. 

“I don’t think we are wasting time, we are just focusing our efforts on this effort,” Dragoni said. “There is a lot of technical work and outreach for the CPRG (Climate Pollution Reduction Grants) that will inform the climate strategy whenever it is going to be revived.” 

Last July, Lombardo withdrew Nevada from the U.S. Climate Alliance, the cohort of states committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, stating the goals of the alliance conflict with the energy policy objectives he outlined in his March executive order. 

Member states draft their own climate solutions centered around the alliance’s 10 policy priorities, including greenhouse gas emission targets, electricity generation and transportation. Of the alliance’s 25 member states, 19 have statewide climate strategies in place. 

In emails obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute, a pro-clean energy watchdog, Lombardo’s Chief of Staff Ben Kieckhefer stated in June that there is too much conflict between the alliance’s agenda and the administration’s energy policies for the state to remain a member. 

In Lombardo’s energy-focused executive order, he called for a diversified energy portfolio that includes not just electrification and clean energy, but ongoing use of natural gas. In 2022, natural gas-fueled power plants accounted for 56 percent of the state's electricity generation and three out of every five households relied on natural gas for heating.

His executive order starkly contrasted with the state’s redacted climate strategy, which emphasized a “shifting away” from natural gas to meet the 2050 net-zero carbon goal.

But reliance on natural gas remains a strong focus under Lombardo. Eight of the state’s largest power plants by capacity are powered by natural gas. 

Southwest Gas, the largest distributor of natural gas in the state, has also proven a formidable opponent to lawmakers looking to transition the state away from its reliance on natural gas. 

“The previous administration was trying to push away from fossil fuel, mainly natural gas,” McClinton, a former Southwest Gas lobbyist appointed to his position by Lombardo, told The Nevada Independent. “This administration believes natural gas plays a vital role in the state decarbonizing.”

The withdrawal from the alliance has had no effect on Nevada, McClinton said, and the state is still leading the clean energy charge.

“We gained nothing from being a member, we lost nothing from not being a member,” he said. “We can be leaders in this state and not be part of an organization.”

Lombardo this month joined 15 other Republican governors in petitioning the federal government to reconsider a proposed mandate that would dramatically accelerate the nation’s electrification of vehicles. Consumers are not purchasing electric vehicles, and there are not enough infrastructure/charging stations nationwide.