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Environmental justice bills on protecting outdoor workers, water as a constitutional right in Nevada

A group of women standing together in front of a tall building with extruded letters that read, “Nevada State Legislature.” They are holding signs, and the closest one reads, “We support BDR 682 Outdoor Worker Protection.”
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Community members gathered for the Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition’s press conference in front of the Nevada State Legislature for Environmental Justice Day in Carson City, Nev., on March 6, 2023.

The Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition celebrated its first lobbying day at the state legislature in Carson City on Monday. The group held a press conference about climate change-related bills they’re supporting during the 2023 Nevada Legislative Session.

Lawmakers, people who work outdoors, including construction workers, along with immigration advocates gathered outside the Legislative Building for Environmental Justice Day. They called for protection and education for workers. Samuel Cano, a nursing student at the College of Southern Nevada, said the issue is personal to his family.

“Before I became a full-time nursing student, I used to help my father in his landscaping business and my mother as a street vendor. And not knowing these factors of extreme heat, we did suffer from dehydration, drowsiness, confusion. And now that I’m studying physiology, I understand that we were close to being dehydrated, getting a heat stroke,” Cano said.

Exposure to extreme heat can lead to occupational injuries and illnesses such as heatstroke, which can result in death. There’s one bill in draft form that ensures there’s enough water and shade at work sites. It also would require training for people working in extreme heat and poor air quality conditions.

The group is also supporting several other climate-related bills to study the effects of climate change.

While Reno doesn’t get as hot as Las Vegas, Northern Nevada comes with its own climate-related challenges for residents, explained Democratic Assemblywoman Sarah Peters, whose district includes Reno’s downtown and midtown areas.

“I’ve had several conversations over the last couple of years with behavioral health care physicians who have noticed mental health and well-being are really one of the biggest impacts that we’ve seen. And it is related to extreme storm events like the snow storms that we’ve been seeing that have people isolated indoors. We see it in the summer with extreme heat and with wildfire,” Peters said.

Peters is sponsoring legislation that would add language in the state constitution that secures an individual’s right to water, clean air, and a healthy environment. The proposal would prohibit the state from taking action that would degrade, diminish or deplete the environment. It’s called the “Green Amendment” and is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday.

“I’m talking about water, air, soil, and general environment,” Peters said. “So when decisions are made at the state that affect those, the constitutional protection allows us a recourse for ensuring that people have a voice in those decisions being made.”

Lawmakers also heard a bill to conduct a state study to identify communities disproportionately impacted by environmental-related burdens and climate change, along with ways to prevent and decrease those issues.

Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning political journalist and the host of KUNR’s monthly show Purple Politics Nevada. She is passionate about reporting during election season, attending community events, and talking to people about the issues that matter most to them.
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