Lake Tahoe Restoration Act passes Senate committee (updated)
More than $400 million in federal funding could be headed to environmental efforts at Lake Tahoe if a bill approved by a U.S. Senate committee becomes law.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works passed the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act of 2015 Wednesday, Jan. 20. If ratified, the bill would authorize $415 million for a wide range of environmental projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin, from reducing wildfire threats to improving water clarity to combating the introduction and spread of invasive species.
Legislators passed the first Lake Tahoe Restoration Act in 2000 following the 1997 Lake Tahoe Summit and a visit by then-President Bill Clinton. The act spurred a $1.6 billion effort to protect Lake Tahoe that included state, local and private investment. Several updates to the original act have been proposed since the bill’s 10-year time frame closed, but none have been approved by the full Senate or U.S. House of Representatives, according to http://www.govtrack.us.
The legislation that passed the Senate committee Wednesday is sponsored by U.S. Senators Dean Heller (R-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
Restoration of wildlife habitat, creation of fuel breaks, mitigation of stormwater pollution and advancements in the recovery of the Lahontan cutthroat trout were all mentioned by Reid as benefits brought by the passage of the original act.
“But this legislation does more than simply carry these existing programs forward,” Reid said in a Wednesday statement. “This bill focuses our investments by making science a priority, calls for better management of our public lands in the Lake Tahoe Basin and better public access to those lands, and takes aggressive action against new threats, specifically algae growth and the spread of aquatic invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels.”
Resolving differences between competing proposals for an updated Lake Tahoe Restoration Act will be a critical next step if an updated act is to become law.
“Today’s committee passage is a big step toward combating the numerous threats that take a toll on the Tahoe Basin,” Heller said in a statement. “I look forward to working with our delegations in both the Senate and the House to resolve the discrepancies between the two different Tahoe proposals and enact a bill that helps conserve the Basin’s natural beauty for generations to come.”
Two versions of the act have been introduced into the House, one by John Garamendi (D-CA) and one by Tom McClintock (R-CA). Garamendi’s mirrors the Senate bill, while McClintock’s bill, which passed House Natural Resources Committee in October, focuses on fire prevention and measures to protect the lake from the introduction of invasive species.
“For the last eight years, Tahoe legislation has been introduced in the Senate and has not moved off the Senate floor,” McClintock said in an October statement announcing the passage of the bill through the House committee. “This bill has been carefully crafted to fit within the budget parameters set by Congress and it addresses the two most immediate environmental threats to the Tahoe Basin.”
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spokesman Tom Lotshaw said the agency is hopeful the Senate and House can reach a compromise on the most recent proposals. The agency has coordinated funding from the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act through its Environmental Improvement Program.
“From our perspective at TRPA, we’re excited to see progress on the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act in both chambers of Congress, appreciative of the leadership that our federal delegation is showing on this issue, and optimistic the Senate and House will be able to reach a compromise on this important legislation for Lake Tahoe,” Lotshaw said in an email.
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