Lake Tahoe Summit
It is an honor to be here today in the presence of such Titans as Senators Feinstein and Ensign and Governor Gibbons, who have done so much for the environment and the economy of Lake Tahoe. And it is, after all a dual mission that we have: first, to preserve and protect this beautiful resource for the enjoyment of future generations and second, within these parameters, to maximize its use for the enjoyment of the present generation.
These two goals are not mutually exclusive.
No one understands this better than the communities of Lake Tahoe, who recognize the importance of this Lake and its surrounding landscape to the quality of life of the people who live here and to an economy built in part on those who come here to share that experience.
A generation ago, we honored and promoted the natural union between the environment and the economy. I believe the future of the Lake depends upon restoring that balance.
One example is the ongoing work to prevent the infestation of invasive species of mussels into the Lake, which would devastate both the Lake and the economy built upon its health and beauty. I salute the proactive efforts undertaken to address this threat.
Another example of the natural union between the environment and the economy is fire suppression. It should be obvious to all that there is nothing more environmentally devastating to a forest than a forest fire. A generation ago, we managed our forests wisely, removing the overgrowth and overpopulation that fuels fires and facilitates disease and infestation. This practice not only promoted healthy forests and reduced the severity and frequency of fires, but it also contributed to the prosperity of the community.
The Angora Fire of 2007 was the result of abandoning this balance and stands as damning testimony of what happens when this balance is lost.
The economy took an estimated hit of about $1 billion dollars and increased erosion and plumes of ash threatened the clarity of the lake and made a mockery of our air quality laws.
Many bi-partisan efforts have been undertaken to restore that balance, the Herger-Feinstein Forest Recovery Act being a stellar example. Yet, as we have seen, endless litigation now threatens the fruits of these endeavors.
We have seen many positive steps in the environmental recovery of the region. The Lake’s clarity measurement is now in the range where it has been for about the past eight years and is beginning to level off.
But what is not recovering is the Tahoe economy. Unemployment stands at 13.8%. Declining enrollment has led to the closure of two schools and an economy that is not able to provide services and products for local residents.
Economic recovery is just as important as environmental recovery. In fact, they go hand-in-hand. I hope today we can agree that restoring the proper balance between the environment and the economy is not only the prudent thing to do, but also the right the thing to do.
In this respect, I need to take a moment to speak for many of my constituents who feel that their property rights have been abused by decisions made by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
I have heard many complaints by citizens who have been thwarted in their attempts to protect their property from fire danger, or to make minor and harmless improvements to their homes, or have been assessed exorbitant fees, or who have been denied simple permits by a board that they can’t even elect.
I believe that these complaints are undermining public support for the legitimate objectives that both states and the federal government had when they established TRPA. Structural reforms need to be entertained, including stronger local participation in decision-making, and reform of a vote process that can deny needed permits with as few as just three votes out of 14 on the board.
Preserving and protecting Lake Tahoe for the enjoyment of future generations should not preclude the enjoyment of Lake Tahoe by the current generation. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues and my constituents toward restoring and improving both the environment and the economy of the Lake Tahoe Basin. And that begins with restoring a balanced approach that will maintain public support for the vital work remaining before us.