Severe debt and federal budget cuts will put increasing pressure on the private sector to take responsibility for environmental restoration projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin, according to the congressional delegates and state leaders who met on Monday for the 16th annual Lake Tahoe Summit.
With the White House projecting a $1.65 trillion spike in the deficit this year, the theme at the summit was the relationship between the public and private sectors and how agencies and organizations in the basin can collaborate to achieve economic and environmental health.
"First of all, we're citizens. And whether we have a private business, we're taxpayers, we've got to have government and the private sector. Washington is in deep financial trouble, so we need those who have the money in their business to help us out through the Tahoe Fund," California Gov. Jerry Brown said after the event.
The Tahoe Fund is a nonprofit corporation founded in 2010 that aims to privately fund environmental projects around the basin with an emphasis on conservation, recreation and education, Tahoe Fund Vice President Allen Biaggi said at the summit.
For the second year in a row, both Brown, a Democrat, and Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nev., came to the summit. The governors were joined at Edgewood Tahoe by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.
All the speakers commented on the need for collaboration not only between public and private sectors, but between the political parties and the states as well in order to preserve water clarity and protect Tahoe from invasive species. Part of that collaboration includes updating the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Regional Plan for the first time since 1987.
The current revisions come on the heels of Nevada Senate Bill 271, approved by Sandoval last year, that provides for the withdrawal of Nevada from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency if three central issues are not addressed. According to the Tahoe Project website, those issues include revising the regional plan document, the TRPA voting structure and recognizing the importance of economics in the basin.
Both Sandoval and Heller said that they don't anticipate Nevada making good on the threat of pulling out of the agency if those changes are made. The legislation started the conversation and now the reforms are starting, Heller said.
"The threat was out there and I think the good news was that it helped people come to their senses that more needs to be done, and it needs to be done in a way that we have economic prosperity as well as environmental prosperity," Heller said in an interview after the summit.
For Sandoval, updating the plan will play a major role in keeping the states united.
"We get that Regional Plan adopted by the TRPA and that will go a long way toward keeping Nevada in the agreement," Sandoval said.
In his official remarks, McClintock said that he doesn't think regional agencies such as the TRPA and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board give enough consideration to the economy when it comes to decision-making in the basin, drawing applause from the audience.
"No where in TRPA's mission statement is there a word about the economy. The Tahoe citizens who call my office complain of being thwarted in their attempts to protect their property from fire danger, or to make minor or harmless improvements in their home, or of being denied simple permits by boards they can't even elect. They feel they've lost control of their own communities to state and regional agencies that are utterly unresponsive to the people who actually live here," McClintock said.
Without a real focus on the economy, there won't be a private sector to help restore the lake, McClintock said.
"People are fleeing Lake Tahoe, and a lot of them are heading to the Nevada desert. No conceivable act of God could possibly turn this beautiful lake into a less desirable place for people to live than the middle of the Nevada desert. Only acts of government can do that kind of damage," he said.