The Riggs Report: A Tahoe milestone
Presidential visit marks 20th year of environmental summit
It was really no contest. Stay in Sacramento, where the Legislature was scrambling to pass the last of hundreds of bills before the end of session, or travel to the gorgeous shores of Lake Tahoe for a summit featuring President Obama, who was making his first visit there.
Gov. Jerry Brown made the right call, escaping the Capitol’s overheated hallways and blizzard of paper and heading to the lake on Wednesday for an annual summit that just marked its 20th year.
After all, Brown will be spending the month of September wading through all those bills for a decision on whether to sign or veto—a farewell gift from lawmakers as they head home for the rest of the year.
“Beauty transcends politics,” Brown told the crowd gathered at the Harvey’s Lake Tahoe outdoor amphitheater, discussing bipartisan efforts to preserve the lake and, indirectly, describing his decision to skip Sacramento for the day.
But Sacramento wasn’t exactly ignored at Tahoe.
President Obama gave Brown some love, praising last week’s passage of SB 32, which extends and increases state guidelines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“More states need to follow California’s lead,” Obama said.
It’s hard to believe that this was the 20th Lake Tahoe Summit. KCRA chief photographer Mike Rhinehart and I were at Lake Tahoe to cover the first event in late July 1997. It was inaugurated by President Bill Clinton, along with Vice President Al Gore and other top advisers.
It was covered heavily by local and national press, and served to shine a global spotlight on the environmental problems, including diminishing water clarity, that were plaguing the lake.
It wasn’t easy to travel around the lake that day. What I remember were the large crowds who gathered at Incline Village to witness the event, and Clinton’s well-choreographed departure after his remarks, aboard his helicopter.
With Lake Tahoe as a backdrop, it was a made-for-TV moment.
Until this week, that was the last time that a sitting U.S. president had visited the lake. Despite the attention, and the $1.8 billion that the White House estimates has been spent to protect Lake Tahoe in the interim, the lake faces continuing environmental threats, including rising water temperatures and algae growth.
On Wednesday, Obama made a number of conservation announcements, which include $29.5 million to clear dead vegetation and to reduce wildfire danger, $4 million to improve the Truckee River watershed, grants to control pollution from storm water runoff and programs to stop the spread of invasive species like the zebra and quagga mussels.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, later acknowledged the ongoing threat by tweeting: “Climate change is the next challenge for Lake Tahoe. Temperatures are rising faster than any large lake globally.”
Despite those threats, Obama also celebrated the progress that’s been made in protecting Tahoe’s resources.
“This place is spectacular because it’s one of the highest, deepest, oldest, purest lakes in the world,” the president said. “Our healing of Lake Tahoe proves it’s within our power to pass on the great bounty of this country to the next generation.”