Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why Aren't We Disturbed by This?

Late last month, we discussed an important environmental bill in the Nevada Legislature, SB 229. This bill is out to repeal SB 271, the controversial bill passed in 2011 that threatened Nevada's withdrawl from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). TRPA is the enforcement mechanism of the compact between California and Nevada (and overseen by the federal government) to protect Lake Tahoe.

In June 2011, we noted the immense amount of juice that the lobbying firm R&R Partners has over Nevada Government. It has juice in the Legislature. And it has juice with the Governor. And is it any coincidence that R&R pushed hard for SB 271's passage? Oh yes, and don't forget that R&R represents various casinos and developers who are interested in more development at Lake Tahoe.

Fast forward to December 2012. By that time, TRPA had a new Regional Plan for the first time since 1987. And surprise, the new Regional Plan allows for more development around the lake. Yet when Secretary of State Ross Miller (D) signaled his support for rescinding SB 271 (he oversaw the revision of the original bill in 2011), the Nevada Conservation League signaled willingness to work with the new Regional Plan so long as SB 271 is repealed and the threat of the bi-state Tahoe Compact's destruction is withdrawn. However, other environmentalists, like the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Club, filed a federal law suit to scrap the new Regional Plan and reinstate stronger protections of Tahoe that are in line with the original Compact, along with the approval to it given by Congress in 1980.

Fast forward to this week. New controversy has arisen over testimony recently heard on SB 229 in Carson City. Earlier this month, the State Senate held a hearing and TRPA Board Member Steve Robinson testified against it. Why would Robinson testify against a bill written to drop the threat of abolishing his own agency? It turns out that Steve Robinson has a conflict of interest.

Robinson was testifying on Senate Bill 229, a measure backed by environmentalists that would preserve the bi-state compact by repealing the 2011 law allowing Nevada to withdraw from the TRPA if changes aren’t made to ease development around the lake.

The hearing highlighted Robinson’s dual role as both lobbyist and TRPA board member — a role that environmentalists say represents an inherent conflict of interest when it comes to protecting Lake Tahoe.

Robinson is the former government affairs director for R&R Partners, one of the largest lobbying firms in Nevada that was retained by Tahoe businesses to shepherd through the 2011 law, Senate Bill 271. Robinson is no longer an employee of R&R Partners, but is contracted with them to lobby for two mining companies. [...]

“Given the role R&R played in passing SB 271, it certainly concerns me,” said Kyle Davis, political director for the Nevada Conservation League, of Robinson’s dual role. “He’s been very good at making it clear when he’s working on TRPA issues and when he’s working on R&R issues. But the TRPA issues are completely intertwined with what R&R does. I don’t know how you keep the two separate.”

Neither do I, especially when R&R is actively working to keep this cloud of uncertainty over TRPA, and maybe even let it fall apart completely, in order to please its clients. After all, why let some big, silly lake get in the way of lucrative business?

As we explained last month, this is actually foolish thinking. Tourism and commerce at Tahoe ultimately rely on the lake's clarity and the overall environmental health of the region. Without a blue lake and nearby wildlife, who would want to visit Tahoe? Think about that.

I guess the R&R and its clients are not. And to be fair, that's not really what they're about. They just care about their bottom lines.

So why let them dictate the terms of preservation in and around Lake Tahoe? This is why the Compact was originally drawn in 1968, and why Congress gave the Compact its blessing in 1980. And this is why TRPA is supposed to exist. TRPA is supposed to protect Lake Tahoe, not private developers who want to build too much there.

Nevada risks breaching the trust of California, blowing up TRPA, and losing a very costly law suit because of the greed of a few companies and the immense juice of one lobbying firm in our state's government. Think about that. Why aren't we more disturbed by this?

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