STATELINE — President Barack Obama told attendees at the 20th annual Lake Tahoe Summit on Wednesday the lake is proof mankind can control the growing danger of climate change.
He said the lake is in much better shape now than it was in 1997 when Nevada Sen. Harry Reid convinced President Bill Clinton to attend the first summit.
But Obama had to admit this is his first visit to Tahoe — a statement that drew groans from the audience.
“I finally got here and I’m going to come back,” he said. “This is really nice. I will be coming here more often.”
“No wonder for thousands of years this place has been a spiritual one,” he said. “For the Washoe people it is the center of their world. Just as this place is sacred to Native Americans, it should be sacred to all Americans.”
But Obama said the lake is still in trouble environmentally because scientists say it’s warming faster than ever before — a clear result of climate change.
To those who deny the reality of climate change, Obama said too many “tend to think climate change is something that’s just happening out there and we don’t have control over. The fact is it is man-made.”
He said it doesn’t take a scientist: “the overwhelming body of evidence shows that climate change is caused by human activity.”
Obama pointed out each year in recent times has become the warmest year in history.
He said past efforts including the annual Tahoe Summit have proven the choice between the environment and the economy is “a false one.”
“For 14 months in a row, the earth has broken global temperature records,” he said. “The cause of conservation and climate change are tied together.”
The president told a crowd of about 9,000 his administration has protected more acres than any administration in history and has worked to drive down the cost of clean power so it’s cheaper in some areas than “dirty power.”
At the same time, he said the nation has had its longest streak of job creation on record, proof conservation isn’t a job killer.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Obama said, has been an invaluable partner in moving his agenda through the Congress.
Reid, in his introduction, said Obama has protected some 260 million acres “that were not protected before he became president.”
“Because of President Obama, the United States is leading the world in reducing dangerous carbon pollution,” he said.
For his part, he quoted Mark Twain who once described Lake Tahoe as “the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”
Reid said he organized that first Tahoe Summit in 1997 “because the world discovered the beauty of Lake Tahoe and it was being loved to death.”
But he credited Obama for a long list of conservation and environmental successes: “He has done so much with his pen since Congress simply wouldn’t act,” Reid said.
As he prepares to retire from office, Reid said this summit “is a celebration of progress, a celebration of unity but there is much work to be done in the future.”
Reid and Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said since that first summit, nearly $2 billion has been spent restoring Tahoe.
Feinstein said that includes $635.4 million federal dollars, $758.6 million from California and $338 million from the private sector.
She credited in part the Southern Nevada lands act that takes money from the sale of public lands surrounding Las Vegas and uses the cash for conservation. A huge percentage of that money has gone to Tahoe Basin projects — more than 1,200 in and around the basin. She said a bill reauthorizing the Tahoe restoration act is awaiting action in the Congress. It would provide $415 million and has been unanimously approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee.
“One need only gaze at these emerald blue waters to see the progress we’ve made in keeping Tahoe blue,” Reid said.
He also applauded California Gov. Jerry Brown, who he said has been working on environmental causes since the 1970s, adding Brown and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval worked together to strengthen the bi-state compact that governs the basin.
Sandoval was absent because of a prior commitment to attend his conference on the opioid epidemic in Las Vegas. But California’s other Democratic Senator, Barbara Boxer, was at the summit.