Q-and-A with Rep. Tom McClintock
With less than three months to go until Election Day, Rep. Tom McClintock dropped into the Lake Tahoe Basin last week to visit with local leaders and discuss any new or ongoing challenges facing the Alpine community.
The congressman, who represents California’s 4th District (which encompasses the Sierra from Truckee to the Sequoia National Forest), met with fire chiefs, business owners and others. He also stopped by the Tahoe Daily Tribune, the Sun’s sister paper in South Lake Tahoe.
Topics of discussion included the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, which would authorize $415 million to continue restoration work in the basin, and a state water bill co-authored by McClintock that would allow the storage of more surplus water, among other things.
Check out what the congressman had to say about the area below.
Q: What do you feel are the big issues facing Tahoe today?
A: The economy first and foremost, which is what I devoted my remarks to at the Tahoe Summit years ago. But also the enormous costs that are being imposed by the regulatory bureaucracy — which affect all of the facilities in the region — and the need to restore some better semblance of local government to the region. I think that all of those are interrelated. And of course there’s the natural threat that catastrophic wildfire, in particular, poses to this region.
Q: You mentioned fuel reductions at last week’s Tahoe Summit and how diminishing the threat of wildfire should be at the top of policy changes. What policies would you like to see changed?
A: We’ve had an about 80 percent decline in timber harvest over the past 30 years throughout the national forests. That has devastated the economy and has resulted in a level of overgrowth that’s unprecedented in modern times. And the result is much more frequent and ferocious forest fires and much more susceptibility to disease and pestilence.
When we carried the excess timber out, we had much healthier forests and a thriving economy. Since we’ve consigned our forests to benign neglect, we’ve seen a devastated economy and devastation to the forests. That has to change. At the same time, biomass generation offers us the ability to further reduce the costs of fire treatment in the forests. Both of those I think are absolutely crucial tools in restoring proper forest management and reducing the threat of catastrophic fire.
As I’ve said, we’ve got a big taste of that in 2007. Last year, we saw the biggest fire in the history of the Sierra. It is going to get worse until these policies are changed and we begin practicing sound forest management again.
Q: Is that one of the things you’re talking with the local fire chiefs about today?
A: Yes, and my support over their concerns over the basin management plan. Catastrophic wildfire, particularly close to our community, is not a forest management tool. It is a crisis and an imminent threat to property, life and our environment, and it should be treated that way.
Q: Where is the most opposition coming from?
A: You get it from the environmental organizations that will sue to stop any salvage of dead timber. For example, that’s what we’re fearing is the next step on the Rim Fire salvage.
Q: Where do you stand in regard to the proposed Lake Tahoe Restoration Act?
A: Well, as you know, I’ve supported the Restoration Act in the past. But we’ve been through many sessions now. It’s been introduced, but never moved. I think we need to look at prioritizing the needs in the Tahoe Restoration Act. Priority one needs to be fuel reduction, and priority two needs to be invasive species. And I think by focusing on those critical areas, the bill would have a much better chance of actually moving.
Q: What is the status of the California Water Bill?
A: It is being negotiated now. There is a growing sense of optimism, but I can’t go into any details because we’ve all been sworn to keep all of the negotiations confidential until they are consummated. I was skeptical a week or two ago, but I’m much more optimistic now.
Q: The 4th District congressional election is coming up in less than three months. How are you feeling about your campaign?
A: I’m very confident. In the preliminary election, I received 56 percent of the vote. The runner up received 23 percent. So I feel cautiously optimistic of those numbers.
Q: Any other issues facing Tahoe or your district that you want to address?
A: Obviously self-governance continues to wrinkle an awful lot of folks. The fact that so many governing decisions have been taken away from the people of Tahoe and vested in regional agencies, whose appointments are from outside of the community, is a continuing problem. The inordinate delays in getting applications approved by federal agencies — such as the Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers, as well as regional agencies like Lahontan — is a continuing problem, and it threatens tourism in the region because it has made so many improvements simply cost prohibitive.
Tourists don’t go where facilities are dilapidated or shabby because the business people can’t get the permits at a reasonable cost to make improvements. That’s a big problem, its’ a growing problem, and I think it’s certainly the biggest man-made danger facing the region.