Nevada Is Obama’s Green Oasis in Climate Fight With Republicans

(Bloomberg) — As Air Force One approaches Las Vegas on
Monday, President Barack Obama can peer down and survey some of
the millions of solar panels dotting the Nevada desert.

When he arrives at the National Clean Energy Summit in the
city, he’ll address a crowd including executives from electric-car maker Tesla Motors Inc., Republican lawmakers who support
renewable energy development and leaders from the world’s
largest supplier of rooftop solar panels.

Bipartisanship has been the exception as Obama has sought
to advance climate initiatives across the country. Republicans –
– and some Democrats — in Washington and state capitals have
bristled at the cost of subsidizing clean energy and have
accused the Obama administration of waging a war on the coal
industry.

Nevada stands as something of a green oasis for Obama’s
clean-energy vision, with a rapidly growing solar industry,
bipartisan political support for reduced carbon emissions and
wide swaths of federally owned lands repurposed for massive
renewable energy projects. Tesla is building a huge battery
plant called the “gigafactory” near Reno, with help from tax
incentives approved by Governor Brian Sandoval, one of the few
Republicans to embrace Obama’s clean energy goals.

“Nevada has been a utopia for clean energy,” said Will
Craven, director of public affairs for SolarCity Corp., a
rooftop solar-system provider that received state tax incentives
to expand in Nevada last year. “The sunshine here could be
compared to Saudi Arabia’s or Venezuela’s oil reserves.”

Cutting Emissions

Obama’s plan to cut U.S. carbon emissions and fight climate
change depends largely on replacing foreign oil and domestic
coal with renewable energy sources and natural gas. This month,
he proposed to cut carbon emissions from power plants 32 percent
by 2030. His administration proposed this week to cut emissions
of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas production
by more than 40 percent by 2025.

In a series of recent speeches and video statements, Obama
has cast his climate agenda as critical to the future of the
planet.

“We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate
change,” Obama said after announcing his Clean Power Plan on
Aug. 3. “We’re the last generation that can do something about
it.”

The Clean Energy Summit is sponsored by Senator Harry Reid,
a Nevada Democrat; the Center for American Progress, a
Democratic Party-aligned nonprofit in Washington, D.C.; the
Clean Energy Project, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Las
Vegas; MGM Resorts International and the University of Nevada,
Las Vegas.

‘Regressive Regulations’

Most Republicans in Washington panned Obama’s Clean Power
Plan, which prods states to move from carbon-emitting coal
plants to renewables like wind and solar. Several Republican
governors have sued the Environmental Protection Agency, saying
the federal mandates represent an abuse of executive power.

“The administration is now trying to impose these deeply
regressive regulations, regulations that may be illegal,”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican,
said Aug. 3 on the Senate floor. “I’m going to keep doing
everything I can to fight them.”

Critics of Obama’s push for renewables highlight his
administration’s failures, such as Solyndra LLC, a solar-panel
manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011 after
receiving more than $500 million from taxpayers.

Nevada stands out as a Republican-led state at the
forefront of the shift from coal. The state legislature in 2013
voted to shut down a coal plant and replace its production with
renewable energy sources.

Nevada Projects

Obama’s Interior Department has approved more than 50
solar, wind and geothermal projects on public land since 2009,
with Nevada leading all other states, according to the Bureau of
Land Management.

“It’s sun-drenched,” said David Hayes, a former deputy
secretary of the department who left in 2013 and now teaches at
Stanford Law School. “Something like 90 percent of the state of
Nevada is public lands. It’s got all the ingredients.”

Solar jobs in Nevada grew 146 percent in 2014, providing
the state the most such work per capita and the fastest growth
in the country, according to The Solar Foundation, a Washington,
D.C.-based nonprofit. Nevada trails only California in producing
geothermal energy, and has the largest untapped geothermal
resources, according to the U.S. Energy Information
Administration.

‘Energy Zone’

The Bureau of Land Management approved three solar projects
in June as part of a new “energy zone” near Las Vegas. NV
Energy, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., plans
to build a 660-acre solar plant on the site.

On the other side of the state, Tesla is constructing its
$5 billion gigafactory, which will make more lithium-ion
batteries than any plant in the world. Nevada lawmakers
unanimously approved $1.3 billion in tax incentives to lure the
carmaker into the state.

Federal funding for renewable energy meanwhile is under
attack in Washington. Republican leaders in Congress have sought
to cut funding for the EPA and subsidies for renewable energy
projects. They promise to block implementation of Obama’s Clean
Power Plan.

Obama has threatened vetoes, and a prolonged budget
standoff could force a shutdown of the U.S. government.

After returning from Las Vegas, the president will travel
to New Orleans on Aug. 27 to mark the 10th anniversary of
Hurricane Katrina. Obama has regularly cast extreme weather
events as a consequence of climate change.

On Aug. 31, Obama will travel to Alaska, becoming the first
president to tour the U.S. Arctic. He has blamed global warming
for melting permafrost and retreating glaciers in the state.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Toluse Olorunnipa in Washington at
tolorunnipa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Craig Gordon at
cgordon39@bloomberg.net
Alex Wayne, Michael Shepard

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