The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Regional Plan Update is headed to court.
On Monday, the Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the TRPA's long-discussed plan for Lake Tahoe's future.
The environmental groups contend the Regional Plan Update violates the TRPA's Bi-state Compact because it will not achieve and maintain the agency's environmental standards, improperly delegates TRPA's project review to local governments and does not reduce the environmental impacts from development to less-than-significant levels.
"Because the Plan Update improperly delegates project review and approval to local governments, fails to require minimum regional standards, and is not supported by an adequate environmental analysis and proper threshold findings, the Plan Update is invalid, such that it must be set aside," according to the suit, which asks for an injunction against implementation of the plan.
The TRPA called the litigation "pointless" in a Monday statement and said the Sierra Club is "out of touch" with the issues facing Lake Tahoe. The TRPA will continue putting the RPU into effect until a judge says otherwise, TRPA spokesman Jeff Cowen said in an email. The TRPA's Governing Board approved the Regional Plan Update in December.
TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta said the legal challenge to the RPU goes against scientific principles and delays needed policy changes.
"Renewal is badly needed to realize environmental improvements," Marchetta said in the statement. "A modern approach to sustainability that mixes incentives and a streamlined permit process with high environmental standards is at the heart of 21st century environmentalism. This lawsuit takes us back to the outdated environmental movements of 30 years ago. Simply demanding that development should go away or people should stop coming to Lake Tahoe is not a realistic plan."
Additional height and density allowed under the plan have been among the environmental groups' major concerns with the RPU. The height and density allowances were part of an effort by the TRPA to move development away from sensitive land and into already developed areas.
"This new plan fails to recognize that an increase in buildings, rooftops, and pavement will mean an increase in the amount of polluted rain and snowmelt - runoff that flows directly into the Lake," said Laurel Ames, conservation co-chair of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, in a statement posted on environmental law firm Earthjustice's website on Monday. "Stormwater from pavement and roads is the leading cause of the Lake's loss of clarity. Allowing more pavement and roads seriously undermines efforts to clean up the once pristine lake."
California's Secretary for Natural Resources, John Laird, and Nevada's Director of Conservation and Natural Resources, Leo Drozdoff, issued a joint statement about the litigation Monday, saying they are "deeply disappointed" by the decision to sue.
"Over 18 months ago, we renewed a commitment to ensure that the unique environment and economy of Lake Tahoe are safeguarded for generations," according to the statement. "TRPA's Regional Plan Update offers the roadmap needed to secure protections in the coming years."
Passage of an updated regional plan was one of the requirements in Nevada Senate Bill 271, which threatens to pull the state out of the TRPA if certain changes are not enacted. The bill was passed during the last session of the Nevada legislature.
The lawsuit contends California regulators agreed to weakened protections for Lake Tahoe because of political pressure from Nevada and SB 271. The suit contends negotiations took place under the auspices of saving the TRPA compact.
Litigation over the regional plan leading to the dissolution of the TRPA Compact was brought up in a Monday statement from League to Save Lake Tahoe Executive Director Darcie Goodman Collins. Goodman Collins said the League is "disappointed" that litigation was filed regarding the plan.
"While the plan is not perfect, it is a product of community collaboration and compromise, and is designed to be adaptive," Goodman Collins said. "It also ensures that we continue protecting the regional environment through a federally approved bi-state compact that contains important environmental thresholds. Any litigation will likely result in the dissolution of this compact and no compact means no regional environmental standards for Lake Tahoe. Preserving the compact and implementing the RPU will provide the greatest long-term benefit to the lake and its communities."
Goodman Collins said the League is hopeful the lawsuit can be resolved quickly. The TRPA's existing regional plan was passed in 1987 following a three-year legal battle.