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August 26, 2019

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Las Vegas state senator spreads the gospel of renewable energy among colleagues

Chris Brooks

Ryan Tarinelli / AP

State Sen. Chris Brooks, D-Las Vegas speaks at a signing event in Carson City, Nev., Monday, April 22, 2019 for a bill requiring electricity companies to get 50 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Brooks has long championed environmental issues, even before he was a lawmaker.

CARSON CITY — State Sen. Chris Brooks doesn’t like to move slowly.

Brooks, a Las Vegas Democrat, has defined himself as a crusader for environmental issues, pushing bills that advance the cause of renewable energy, including one just signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisloak that raised the states renewable portfolio standard — the amount of electricity made by renewable sources — to 50 percent by 2030.

“My goal this session (was) to pass a more aggressive, and a cleaner and more modern, renewable portfolio standard, and I think that we did a great job with that,” he said.

Environmental actions, to Brooks, need to be taken quickly and decisively. Climate change is moving at a faster rate than some politicians want to tackle it — a United Nations report found that without drastic change, the planet will warm to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average by 2030. That temperature increase could be catastrophic.

The goal is to raise that renewable energy portfolio further in the future, a move which Brooks says is necessary.

“There’s a lot of folks who say, ‘it’s too soon’ or ‘we don’t know if we can do this’ or ‘it’ll cost too much money,’” he said. “They’ve consistently been wrong. They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.”

The 2019 session is Brooks’ first as a senator. An assemblyman elected in 2016, he was selected by the Clark County Commission in 2018 to fill the unexpired term of then-Sen. Tick Segerblom, who had been elected to the county commission.

Renewable energy was Brooks’ pet project way before his election to the Legislature, though. He started a solar electric company in 2001 and worked in 2003 to pass environmental legislation that helped expand the renewable energy economy with then-Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani and state senator Dina Titus. Giunchigliani went on to serve on the Clark County Commission, and Titus is now a member of Congress.

Electricity is in Brooks’ blood — his grandfather started Brooks Energy in the 1960s, and his father also worked in the business. He started in the business as a teen. “I didn’t get into this industry as a result of environmental activism,” he said. “I got into the industry and discovered my environmental activism.”

He credits his other legislative passion — organized labor — with helping him get to where he is today: a successful businessman, state senator, father of three and grandfather of two.

“I came into this industry and all the things that I’ve done and where I am today through labor,” he said. “I got kicked out of high school when I was 16, I was a teenage father and so I just went to work right away because I had to. And that’s how I got into this industry.”

Brooks is also passionate about income inequality.

“At the highest level, two of the biggest problems we have on this planet — and definitely in our country and in this state — are climate change and the disruption that that brings and income inequality that exists right now at levels we haven’t seen since, like, the Gilded Age,” he said.

In the United States, the richest 0.1 percent of the population take in more than 188 times the income of the bottom 90 percent, according to the progressive Institute for Policy Studies.

As far as climate change goes, Nevada is set to take a big hit if action isn’t taken. The independent organization Climate Central recently reported that Reno was the fastest warming city in the United States. The group also reported that the average temperature in Las Vegas had increased by almost three degrees since 1951. Las Vegas is also the city with the biggest gulf between urban temperatures and the surrounding rural temperatures, Climate Central said.

Brooks’ push for renewable energy, he said, can be successfully sold to both parties in part due to the economic impact it can have. Those legislators who may be skeptical of human-influenced climate change can still see the impact increasing renewables has on the state economy. His bill that raised the renewable portfolio standard gained support from Republicans.

“It’s at a point now where it’s not a left issue or a right issue or a Democratic issue or a Republican issue,” he said. “If you’re in a state like Nevada, it is just dumb to not take advantage of your renewable resources.”

Sisolak, who set renewable energy as one of his campaign priorities, said Brooks was one of the most respected energy policymakers in the state.

“I’ve been thrilled to work with him this session on his landmark RPS legislation, which will set Nevada back on the path to be the nation’s renewable energy leader,” Sisolak said.

The governor’s praise mirrors that of Democratic Senate leadership.

“Chris was a green-collar job creator long before he became a legislator, and he has brought his wealth of knowledge and experience from the private sector of the renewable energy industry with him to the Legislature,” said Assistant Majority Leader Julia Ratti, D-Sparks.

Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, who attended the signing ceremony of the renewable portfolio standard bill, said Brooks’ work was critical for the state.

“These pieces of legislation are a testament to his tireless work on behalf of Nevada families,” Cannizzaro said.

Brooks, for his part, plays down many concerns about the being able to hit the new renewable energy standards, saying the framework to do so already exists.

“There’s nothing here that needs to be invented. There’s nothing that needs to become significantly cheaper,” he said. “We just need the political will to make it happen.”

It’s a fight, he said, he has no intention of giving up as long as he’s in the Legislature.

“I don’t think that there’s time to wait, but I don’t think there’s a good reason to wait,” he said. “We’re missing economic opportunities for the state of Nevada every year that we wait. So, I’ll keep pushing.”