SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (CN) – For a moment as columns of sunlight drifted through the pines with the cobalt surface of Lake Tahoe in the background, it seemed as though the partisan rancor so characteristic of this political moment might temporarily evaporate. But such congeniality was short lived, if it ever lived at all.
Senator Dianne Feinstein hosted the 23nd annual Lake Tahoe Summit on Tuesday to call attention to pressing environmental concerns like a warming planet and worsening wildfire conditions in California and the rest of the American West.
“The problem we are dealing with now is climate change,” California’s senior senator said during remarks delivered from the South Shore of Lake Tahoe. “There’s no denying global warming, it’s already here.”
Feinstein drew a contrast between the current summit and the first one, held in 1997 and featuring then-President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.
During that event, leaders talked about how the famed clarity of the crystal blue lake in the Sierra Nevada was declining due to overdevelopment, vehicle emissions, fertilizers leaking into the lake and other ecological issues unique to the Lake Tahoe Basin.
But in 2019, the overarching issues of climate change have superseded local concerns. And officials acknowledge Lake Tahoe serves as a thermometer for a dynamically changing climate.
“There is no greater effort to keep this lake clear,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom during the keynote speech at his first ever Lake Tahoe Summit. “This place is a proxy for all our efforts.”
Newsom’s predecessor Jerry Brown often came to the summit to discuss the pressing environmental concerns both specific to the lake and applicable to the entire state and by extension the rest of the world. Newsom was no different, but unlike Brown he has a Democrat running the state of Nevada, which shares responsibility with California in helping to fund and administer Lake Tahoe’s unique governing body the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
But Newsom harkened back to the creation of that agency, formed in 1969 through an agreement cemented by California Governor Ronald Reagan and Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt.
“People like me come and go, but this commitment continues, the partnerships continue,” Newsom said. “We see Democrats and Republicans working together.”
But the spirit of bipartisanship was not a constant during the event.
Republican Congressman Tom McClintock of California’s 4th Congressional District used his speaking time to rail against “well-intentioned environmental laws” that have rendered the forests of California overgrown and more susceptible to wildfire.
“A generation ago we actively managed our forests to ensure tree density matched the ability of the land to support it,” he said. “And lest we forget, our burning forests make a mockery of all of our laws aimed at reducing carbon emissions.”
McClintock supports a revival of the timber industry in forests of the West as an economically efficient way to thin forests.
Newsom was not impressed.
“I’ve heard the exact same comments on seven or eight different occasions,” Newsom deadpanned after the event. “California just put a billion dollars into our vegetation management or fuels reduction forest management, so we’re doing as much if not more than we’ve done in the past. It’s ironic that the federal government is not,” he added, noting budget cuts to the U.S. Forest Service thinning projects.
Newsom was also critical of President Donald Trump and his persistent denial of climate change.
“Not in the White House,” was the governor’s retort to a question about whether he had partners to fight climate change. “Quite the contrary. It’s a full-fledged assault on our environmental rules, regulations and standards.”
Newsom touted his ability to fight the Trump administration, noting California has sued the federal government – as of Tuesday – 56 times since Trump took office.
But Feinstein continued to insist on an across-the-aisle approach, praising McClintock for his focus on wildfire issues while saying the country needs Republicans as well as Democrats to make progress on climate change.
“You need a yes on both sides of the aisle,” she said.