Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe
Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe | wikipedia, the commons

Obama steps up eco-debate at Tahoe fest

President Barack Obama came to see the clear, cobalt waters of Lake Tahoe on Wednesday, with new plans to protect the nation’s most pristine natural places.
 
He urged conservationists across the country to try the Sierra Nevada way -- using private dollars to boost preservation efforts, instead of relying solely on state and federal dollars.

Obama talked about countering climate change before a crowd of at least 7,000 at the Lake Tahoe Summit on the southern shore in Stateline, Nev.
 
Amy Barry, the nonprofit Tahoe Fund CEO, told AMI Newswire that people paying for projects to preserve the pure, picturesque water and tree-lined mountains around it has bolstered the budget and allowed innovation that might have otherwise gotten stuck in the red tape attached to government dollars.
 
“When the president comes to town and says he wants to do the same thing, it’s like, ‘hey, we’re on to something here,’ ” she said. “We can use Tahoe as a testing ground. If it works here, it can be exported all over the world.”
 
Obama is working to fight climate change across the country and abroad.
Before his first visit to the crystalline lake shared by Nevada and California, the outgoing president made headlines by directing $30 million in federal funding, and possibly $10 million more from a nonprofit, to speed restoration of the Salton Sea. The man-made lake is drying up in the southeastern California desert, threatening human health and the environment.
 
Obama asked for information about possibly buying geothermal energy from the area. The money might help cover costs of cleanup, including the rotting fish that create a stink along the shores. The president also put $29 million into researching geothermal energy at sites in Nevada and Utah.
 
Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada hosted Obama’s trip to Tahoe. It marked two decades since Reid kicked off the first Lake Tahoe Summit with former president Bill Clinton.
 
California Gov. Jerry Brown and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer joined fellow Democrats at Wednesday's summit. 
 
The $2.1-billion state and federal investment to improve the clarity of the Lake Tahoe's water has paid off in the past 20 years, data from the University of California, Davis shows.

The lake had an average clarity of 73 feet in 2015, nine feet better than the lowest recorded average of 64.1 feet in 1997. But it still falls short of the 97-foot goal.
 
To tackle troubles in the Tahoe Basin, Obama planned $29.5 million in federal spending to reduce hazards that might fuel forest fires.

Meanwhile, Reid wants Nevada to lead the nation in renewable-energy production. Earlier this month, the retiring senator praised NV Energy’s plan to speed up the shutdown of a coal plant northeast of Las Vegas and replace it with solar.
 
These examples of governmental action do, however, have critics.

Michael Schaus, a watchdog with the Nevada Research Policy Institute, said it’s tough to come up with effective one-size-fits-all federal regulations, such as how much of a state’s energy has to be renewable. He would prefer to let local lawmakers choose the right power source for their area, after reviewing the environmental consequences and economic costs.

Schaus calls government favoritism of certain energy industries, namely solar and wind, “cronyism.” He said politically unpopular alternatives, such as nuclear, aren’t given the same consideration, despite the fact they might be more efficient and less expensive in some places.
 
Although some applaud Obama and Reid for championing new national monuments and protecting more than 2 million acres of wilderness, trails, rivers and valleys, others are cautious about allowing federal management of state resources.

Insisting on keeping local control of public land is not uncommon in Nevada, the home of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy. He instigated an armed standoff with law enforcement over disputed federal grazing fees and was eventually jailed.
 
“People in Nevada don’t like to have to ask the feds what they can do with their land,” Schaus said.
 
However, Tami Africa and Sharon Kerrigan, both of South Lake Tahoe, appreciated Obama’s efforts to preserve the environment and take action to slow the effects of climate change.
 
“He’s our environmental president,” agreed Kerrigan Gomez, a trade group executive. “He recognized this place is sacred. I’m proud of the work he’s done, despite the challenges.”

After stops to check on conservation efforts in Hawaii and a newly protected marine area in the Pacific, Obama is expected to continue his climate-change campaign in China.
 
“We’ve partnered -- as the world’s two largest economies and two largest carbon emitters -- to set historic climate targets that are going to lead the rest of the world to a cleaner, more secure future,” he said.