Monday, March 25, 2013

For Green & Green ($), We Need to Keep Lake Tahoe Blue.

How important is being green? Over the weekend, the Reno Gazette Journal's web site ran this blog item about Reno businesses seeing green (as in $) in going green.

“Sustainability is very important for job attraction,” [Mike] Kazmierski [President and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada] said. “Companies are looking for communities that embrace sustainability. It sets an image of an environmentally friendly community, it’s attractive to young professionals, and it speaks to clean air and water and to the quality of life.”

And being environmentally friendly speaks to a company’s bottom line.

“Employees like to work for businesses that are environmentally friendly, so you attract a different kind of employee,” Kazmierski said.

“Customers want to deal with businesses that are environmentally friendly so you might grow in a different way that you didn’t expect. … It’s not just fluff, it’s a decision businesses need to make to stay competitive in the years ahead.”

I guess a growing number of companies throughout Nevada are "seeing the light" in finding profitability in social responsibility. That's nice. So when will certain developers looking to pave paradise in Lake Tahoe realize this?

In 2011, the Nevada Legislature passed SB 271. It's also known around these parts as "The Trash Tahoe Bill". That's because this bill threatened to withdraw Nevada from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) isn't weakened enough to allow for massive new development around the lake.

Last December, talk was brewing of repealing SB 271. After all, a new agreement on TRPA was reached. And now, we finally have SB 229.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs introduced Senate Bill 229 on Monday. The bill would completely repeal 2011’s Senate Bill 271, which threatens to pull Nevada out of the bi-state planning agency in October 2015 if certain changes to the agency aren’t made. SB 271 authorizes Nevada’s governor to postpone the withdrawal until October 2017 under certain circumstances.

One of the most significant changes sought by SB 271 was the passage of an updated regional plan guiding development and land use throughout the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The TRPA’s Governing Board passed its Regional Plan Update in December. The Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore sued to block the plan’s implementation last month. The environmental groups believe rules in the new plan will not accomplish TRPA’s environmental goals and will cause a new era of over-development at the lake. Proponents of the RPU contend the new rules will help ease burdensome restrictions on basin residents and businesses, while helping advance protection of Lake Tahoe.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe and Nevada Conservation League have urged legislators to repeal SB 271, especially in light of the RPU’s passage. Maintaining TRPA’s Compact is key to protecting the lake, according to the groups.

“Although the passage of SB 271 was a black eye for Nevada, we are committed to make sure that it does not result in the destruction of the Tahoe Planning Compact and the health of the lake,” the Conservation League wrote in a statement this week.

Back in February, Nevada Conservation League's Kyle Davis hinted at this strategy when he appeared on "To the Point" with Anjeanette Damon.

(Go to 13:00 for the Tahoe segment.)

Since SB 271's passage, Nevada has landed into the political and environmental hot seat. California, the other state covered by the current TRPA, is considering a "contingency plan" should Nevada follow through in pulling out of TRPA. Basically, the California Legislature is debating legislation to set up its own environmental stewardship plan for Lake Tahoe if Nevada allows SB 271 to stand.

Meanwhile, California officials began setting up a contingency plan in case the bi-state TRPA is dismantled. The California legislation is authored by the Senate leader [Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento] and by Sen. Fran Pavley, an Agoura Hills Democrat, who often takes a lead role in California environmental issues. About two-thirds of Lake Tahoe is in California.

Their bill, SB 630, would set up a California TRPA with a nine-member board to regulate development on the California side of the lake, the largest alpine lake in North America. Appointees would be drawn from the boards of supervisors in Placer and El Dorado counties, the Tahoe City Council and members of the public. The Assembly speaker and Senate leader each would have the authority appoint two members.

“California must have a plan in place to protect Lake Tahoe," Pavley said in the statement. "Due to unilateral action taken by the state of Nevada, the governance structure that has served Lake Tahoe for over four decades is now in jeopardy. We have sought to partner with the state of Nevada on this issue, and still see that as the best way forward.”

On the Nevada side, if the bi-state TRPA is dissolved, that state’s regulatory authority would be handled by a Nevada TRPA, which is poised to be set up under the provisions of the pullout bill.

And that's not all. While California is responding to Nevada's threat of unilateral deregulation with unilateral regulation, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and other grassroots environmental activists are going to court. Oh yes, that's right. They've filed suit to challenge the new TRPA compact. In their eyes, the new TRPA compact itself allows for overdevelopment at the cost of the well-being of the lake and its wildlife.

“In 1980, Congress, along with the states of California and Nevada, specifically entrusted a
regional body to oversee all environmental protection and land use at Lake Tahoe, including
project approvals, to ensure that local governments do not allow runaway development,” said
Trent Orr, attorney with the public interest law firm Earthjustice, which represents the
conservation groups. “The 1980 Compact requires TRPA to approve all projects within the
region, and to establish minimum regional standards for project approval. They can’t legally cede
that power and leave it to the local governments that failed to protect Tahoe in the past. There is
no reason to believe that cash-strapped local governments would adopt and enforce adequate
environmental protection measures in the face of lucrative development proposals.” [...]

“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 of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club in California. “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.”

The revised plan also allows local governments to set development regulations that do not meet
minimum regional standards, including standards for how much land can be paved, or
“covered.” This violates the Compact’s requirement that TRPA establish “a minimum standard
applicable throughout the region.”

“This is a wrenching departure from past practice and is not in line with the spirit or law of the
bi-state Compact created to protect the lake,” said David von Seggren of the Toiyabe Sierra Club
in Nevada. “The people of Nevada, just like the people of California, care about the ecological
health of Lake Tahoe. Rather than weakening the Compact or threatening to pull out completely,
our leaders should be urging TRPA to develop the region in a way that not only protects the
ecosystem but actually improves it.”

In 2011, proponents of SB 271 claimed this bill was needed to cut through "excessive red tape" while allowing for updated environmental standards. Instead, it's created a legal nightmare. TRPA must now fight a federal law suit thanks to a revision in the compact that was exacerbated by SB 271. Meanwhile in Sacramento, California's Legislature is now considering retaliatory legislation should Nevada keep SB 271 and essentially kill TRPA as we know it. Let's face it, this has officially become a hot mess.

SB 271 was supposed to solve a problem. Instead, it's been creating new problems for Lake Tahoe and the State of Nevada. While local environmental groups disagree on whether the new TRPA compact is acceptable, they all agree SB 271 can't be allowed to wreak any more havoc on Lake Tahoe.

As a top tourist destination, Lake Tahoe is critical to the economic health of Northern Nevada as well as the environmental well being of the region. Without a clear, blue lake, can the Reno area still count on the millions of tourists and their dollars which flow through the region? I doubt it.

So if Nevada truly cares about green and green, then the Legislature should consider adopting SB 229 to repeal SB 271 and put an end to the legal mayhem that threatens the future of Lake Tahoe. Do we really want to risk losing visitors to Tahoe? And do we want to risk forever losing one of Nevada's greatest natural treasures? Think about it.

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