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COMMENTARY: Bill would be a breath of fresh air for Nevada

As we rebuild Nevada’s economy, let’s welcome clear skies with Assembly Bill 349.

The year was 1990. The Berlin Wall had recently fallen. In an address to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, then-President George H.W. Bush said: “We know that the future of the Earth must not be compromised. We bear a sacred trust in our tenancy here and a covenant with those most precious to us — our children and theirs.”

Those words could have been said today. When I worked for President Bush, he initiated the National Climate Assessment, a sweeping study documenting the impact of climate change on the country. More than 30 years later, we have made tremendous progress in Nevada — often bipartisan progress — yet we still have easy, common-sense things we can accomplish together.

A bill now under consideration in the Legislature would be a breath of fresh air for Nevada families. AB349, sponsored by Assemblyman Howard Watts, D-Las Vegas, would reduce air pollution from vehicles and safeguard our health. Smog from our freeways isn’t just a nuisance — it drives higher rates of asthma, COPD, lung cancer and heart disease. Clark County earned an abysmal “F” grade for both particulate pollution and ozone pollution in the latest State of the Air report from the American Lung Association.

AB349 represents a smarter approach to managing pollution. If approved by lawmakers, the bill will prevent motorists from sidestepping critical smog checks by disingenuously claiming an older car as a “classic car.” A 2011 policy change made this loophole easier to exploit. There’s nothing “classic” about many of these old cars, and they can spew as much as 18 times the pollution as a newer car, and possibly even more. By addressing these gaps and making other updates to our smog system, we will also generate funds to invest in local air quality programs that help Nevadans repair aging and polluting cars or swap them out for modern, fuel-efficient vehicles.

The bill would also cut red tape by reducing requirements for smog checks for cleaner cars and creating convenient new options. AB349 would allow any driver to opt into a “remote sensing” smog check, where advanced technology can detect vehicle emissions as you drive by and automatically notify you if you passed.

When I served on the board of the Clean Energy Project, we hosted clean energy summits highlighting how Nevada could encourage innovation and harness the enormous economic benefits of a clean energy economy. In 2019, when Nevada updated the renewable portfolio standard, Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature found common ground over the pragmatism of moving toward more local clean energy. Let’s unite behind common goals to improve our environment and the iconic natural resources that draw so many visitors and new residents to our state.

This brings me back to air quality. Smog-choked skies are bad for Nevada’s economy. As President Bush suggested back in 1990, ensuring a healthy environment for our kids and grandkids is one of our most vital obligations. Clean air should not be a partisan issue — and it doesn’t have to be, because we have a legacy of rising above the fray in Nevada. AB349 will alleviate pollution and boost much-needed jobs. Legislators would be wise to send it to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s desk.

Sig Rogich is president of the Rogich Communications Group and a former U.S. ambassador to Iceland. He served as co-director of President Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign in 1984 and as senior assistant to President George H.W. Bush from 1989-1992.

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