Feinstein discusses Tahoe’s future at forum | SierraSun.com

Feinstein discusses Tahoe’s future at forum

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the Hyatt Regency Resort Saturday afternoon.

Her visit marked the fifth Sierra Nevada College Forum, in which nationally and internationally known dignitaries have been invited to the college to speak to the community about critical current issues.

Whether speaking about the economy, education, or Lake Tahoe, the thrust of Feinstein’s speech centered around quality-of-life issues.

With the economy now so strong – strong enough “to eliminate public federal debt by 2012” – she emphasized, “…we have an opportunity…to protect the environment…specifically to save Lake Tahoe.”

Feinstein had said she remembers coming to the lake when she was a child, camping with her family as well as going to a camp.

“How different the lake is today,” she said as she spoke of its shrinking clarity.

Wildfires are a key issue for Feinstein, as she recalled the enormous amount of fuels and dead trees she noticed on her drive around the lake in 1997, when she was here during the Presidential Forum.

Feinstein said she believes the work can be done to save the lake. She pointed out a model from her home state of California.

One group evolved from diverse factions working for the forest, which previously had been arguing.

“They began working at the library in Quincy,” said Feinstein, and the bill they eventually introduced became called “the Quincy Library Bill. Now it’s a law.”

Feinstein said Quincy Library Group Act was a pilot program to stop catastrophic fires. A catastrophic fire involves destroying habitats for many species, is capable of destroying lives and homes, and of leaving ash and sediment which would further destroy the quality of Lake Tahoe’s water.

“A major fire could permanently destroy water quality,” Feinstein said. “Right now there are a million acres on fire in the West.”

“More than four million acres have burned so far this year,” she added, and the fire season isn’t over yet.

Feinstein said the U.S. Forest Service and the General Account Administration have pinpointed 24 million acres across the nation as having the highest risk for catastrophic fire.

The Sierra Nevada range is included in that report.

“Money is earmarked for fuels reduction” in these high-risk areas, said Feinstein. Because of the fuels load “it’s only a matter of time before there is a catastrophic fire in this area.”

Across the nation, Feinstein said, in the next 10 years, catastrophic fires will cost taxpayers $8 billion.

“It’s a huge problem.”

In the $900 million pot for the Tahoe Restoration Act, $300 million is from the federal government, $200 million is coming from the state of California; $200 million will be paid for by Nevada; and $200 million will be raised privately by local citizens, she said.

“There’s no opposition yet toward the federal government allotting the money to Lake Tahoe. There’s a possibility that we can hotline it and pass it by the end of September,” said Feinstein.

Reaching the goal is “not pie-in-the-sky. It’s a practical expectation,” Feinstein added.

Feinstein applauded local governments for banning two-stroke engines on the lake because they contribute oxygenating pollutants to the lake.

Thirty-two public water systems are contaminated by the gasoline additive MTBE in California, Feinstein said, “and it’s more serious here where groundwater is closer to the surface and our soil is more granular,” Feinstein explained.

Ethanol is a similar contaminate, Feinstein added.

“Ethanol is made from corn,” however, and “here we get into politics,” she said.

Feinstein cited both presidential candidates as supporting the Corn Belt Senators in lobbying for ethanol.

“This is where our negotiations fell apart,” said Feinstein.

Chevron and Tosco are committed to phasing out MTBE, Feinstein said.

She said public support will be essential to passing a bill mandating gasoline be made with the least possible amount of MTBE or ethanol.

It will be a compromise, she added.

Education was another area Feinstein touched on as she described the poor ratings California has received for its student materials and its preschools.

She said the focus now is on early academic learning, including early reading. Feinstein advocates lowering the student-teacher ratio and spending more per pupil.

Feinstein answered audience questions and gave awards to three students. Two Tahoe-Truckee High School seniors had been previously chosen because of their academic excellence, and one Incline Middle School student, Alethia Williams, was selected after being introduced to the senator as Incline Elementary’s top graduating student last spring.

Giving student awards is a tradition for Feinstein wherever she goes, she said.

“What young people can do to help save Lake Tahoe,” Feinstein said in answer to a question from a 9-year-old in the audience, “is to study. Learn all you can about the bark beetle. Read about fires. Go to public meetings and get your parents involved.”

She concluded her speech by moving from local issues to the international arena. Feinstein unequivocably supports a “yes” vote regarding trade with China.

“No large country on earth has changed more than China in the last 20 years,” she explained. A “yes” vote will enable economic democracy and therefore lead the country eventually to changing its human rights issues on its own, she added.

Taiwan is a model for what’s happening now in China, Feinstein said.

If the United States votes “no,” and isolates China, China will simply go somewhere else to trade, and we will lose out, she explained.

“It’s the most important vote we have this session,” she said.

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