Feinstein set to introduce Tahoe bill
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is expected to formally announce Friday her plans to introduce legislation to improve Lake Tahoe’s water quality and protect its forests.
Lake Tahoe officials will be joining Feinstein, D-Calif., in San Francisco for the announcement, as will Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; and Richard Bryan, D-Nev.
The bill proposes to change the U.S. Forest Service’s designation from the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit to the Lake Tahoe National Scenic Forest and Recreation Area. Besides creating a new name, the designation would make way for millions of dollars a year to come to Tahoe for help with environmental improvements.
“The designation of the Lake Tahoe Basin has been a long-awaited designation,” said Juan Palma, forest supervisor of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. “Currently, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is really not official. We don’t exist, per se. We do, but we don’t. This will give us an official designation in the Forest Service. It may not have a lot of meaning for the public out there, but for us it’s very important.”
The EIP, adopted more than a year ago, outlines what environmental projects need to be completed over the next decade in order to help save the declining clarity of Lake Tahoe. The federal government’s share of the $900 million EIP is roughly one-third. Feinstein’s bill would authorize $20 million annually for the Forest Service to implement EIP projects, and another $10 million would go to other local political entities for environmental projects.
“We’re supportive of the need for the federal government to have a mechanism in place to continue and accelerate their commitment to Lake Tahoe and the Environmental Improvement Program,” said Steve Teshara, co-chair of the Lake Tahoe Transportation and Water Quality Coalition.
The truly great part about the bill, officials believe, is that the designation – and the money – comes without additional rules.
“This designation doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country,” Palma said. “Other designations – a National Scenic Forest or a Recreation Area – they carry baggage with them. By creating a whole new area that doesn’t exist anywhere in the country, we won’t bring along the baggage. This does not add any additional regulations for Lake Tahoe.”
Teshara, Palma, TRPA Executive Director Jim Baetge, Washoe Tribe Chairman Brian Wallace and others will be in the Bay Area supporting the senator.
However, that won’t be the only support Lake Tahoe officials give to the bill. After its introduction, which likely will happen next week, the bill will need to be approved by both houses of Congress. Changes can be made, and discrepancies will have to be worked out.
“It’s possible it could make it through this legislative session, which comes to an end late this fall. It depends; it may spill over into next year, in which case it would have to be reintroduced,” Teshara said. “It can be a one-year or one-year-plus planning process. We are committed to stick with it as long as it takes.”
Whatever changes are made, Teshara said, Lake Tahoe officials will follow its progress closely and either support or fight against the alterations.
“Right now, we’re making sure this has the input of all of Tahoe’s congressional delegation,” Teshara said. “We want to make sure this is bistate and bipartisan – and has a lot of local input.”
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