Climate change is happening.
Last year, a report said the number of days above 115 degrees in the Las Vegas area might grow ten times in the next 80 years, about 40 days a year.
Last year set a milestone for water, too: Lake Mead’s first intake pipe for drinking water dried up. It can no longer transport water to Southern Nevada. Less moisture also means more wildfires, and experts say wild swings in weather, which we’re already starting to see, will become more common.
We can’t all stay indoors when the weather goes haywire. People work outside all the time in the Las Vegas area. What about people experiencing homelessness or those who can’t afford air conditioning 24/7 during the blistering summers?
“Environmental justice means that people, regardless of what part of town or what zip code they live in, they have access to clean air. That they also don’t live in places where the urban heat island is prevalent as it is in many communities in Nevada. That also means access to clean water,” said Cinthia Moore, coordinator for Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition.
To address those concerns, several state lawmakers are proposing legislation they hope will ease weather-related problems for people who can’t afford expensive remedies.
Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D – Las Vegas) is among them. As chair of the Assembly Government Affairs Committee, she oversaw the recent passage of Assembly Bill 312 out of committee. It would create a state-run office dedicated to studying environmental justice.
“It’s going to allow us to kind of start [having] those initial conversations, and I think the key part of this commission is making legislative recommendations,” said Torres. “When we’re making decisions, the Environmental Justice Commission could come back to the legislature and say, ‘This is what we need. We’ve studied the impact of climate change. We know the answers. And we know that it historically impacts disenfranchised communities more.”
“This piece of legislation is about making sure that we’re having a conversation about and making the necessary policy changes,” Torres added.
Any venture to address climate change will likely involve significant investment from the state. Laura Martin is with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. Her organization has long pushed lawmakers to take up legislation meant to offset the effects of climate change.
“I think we have a lot of great elected officials … but for me, on the activist side, it is frustrating to hear we can’t afford light rail,” said Martin. “We can’t afford to bury the power lines, but we can give Elon Musk $300 million and let him build literal boring tunnels.”
In addition to AB312, lawmakers are considering Senate Bill 427, which would add protections for outdoor workers into law.