Obama Touts ‘Sacred’ Tahoe in Enviro Tour Stop

      STATELINE, Nev. (CN) — President Barack Obama stopped in Lake Tahoe on Wednesday to burnish his environmental credentials as his time in office draws to a close, saying that conservation means nothing without addressing climate change.
     “Places like this restore and nurture the soul and we have to make sure they are there for our kids,” Obama said during his 20-minute speech.
     Obama gave the keynote address at the 20th annual Lake Tahoe Summit, 20 years after President Bill Clinton spoke at the inaugural summit that led to a massive investment of public and private funds in the interest of reversing the decline in clarity of the pristine waters of the famed Sierra lake.
     While Obama gave shrift to the problems and accomplishments unique to the ecology of Lake Tahoe, his main concern was to talk about how the two chief concerns of environmentalists — conservation and climate change — are inextricably interrelated and how his administration has contributed to both.
     “The conservation mission is more urgent than ever,” he said. “We made it a priority from day one, setting aside more acres than any administration in history.”
     In the last week alone, the president created two national monuments on opposite ends of the nation, protecting a swath of land in the Maine North Woods, while carving out more than half million square miles to expand the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the waters north of Hawaii.
     But Obama argued that conservation of acres alone is not sufficient with the daunting threat of climate change looming.
     “Conservation is more than just sticking a plaque on a sign and calling it a park,” he said. “We need to embrace the conservation of diverse lands and waters because it will help us build resilience to climate change.”
     Obama praised California Gov. Jerry Brown, in attendance at the summit along with U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California and Harry Reid of Nevada, saying the Golden State is on the vanguard of finding solutions to climate change.
     The president also touted policies his administration has forwarded and enacted, such as requiring greater fuel economy in cars and commercial vehicles, investments in solar, wind and geothermal technologies, his involvement at the Paris Accords, and the creation of the controversial Clean Power Plan, which requires states to meet standards relating to percentages of clean power on their electricity grids.
     “I have made it a priority of my presidency to protect the natural resources we have inherited because we shouldn’t be the last to enjoy them,” he said. “Just as the health of the people and the land are tied together, and the climate and conservation are tied together, we share a sacred connection with those who will follow us.”
     Obama was talking about succeeding generations, of course, but it was also a nod to the fact that most of the politicians on stage were engaging in a bit of a swan song.
     Boxer has announced she will retire at the end of this year, as California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez duke it out for the right to replace her.
     Reid, who is widely credited for convincing Bill Clinton and Al Gore to attend the first Lake Tahoe Summit and pushing Obama to attend years later, acknowledged this will be his last summit.
     “It’s a celebration,” Reid said before introducing the president. “There have been more than $2 billion invested to take care of this lake and effectuate the progress of environmental restoration in the Lake Tahoe Basin.”
     But Reid, along with Obama, acknowledged that after he steps aside, “much work remains to be done and we can’t be complacent.”
     Also, officials acknowledged that while clarity decline at Lake Tahoe has been largely halted and — depending on the year — possibly even reversed, the lake’s health and peerless beauty remains precarious.
     “In the 20 years since President Clinton and Sen. Reid started this summit, federal, state and local leaders have worked together to restore wetlands and habitats, improve roads, reduce pollution and prevent wildfires,” Obama said. “But a changing climate threatens even the best of conservation efforts. Lake Tahoe’s average temperature is rising at its fastest rate ever and its temperature is the warmest on record.”
     The president also did not spare his typically caustic remarks regarding Republicans, saying it is the only major political party in the world that denies the existence of climate change.
     “It’s sure not going to happen if we pretend a snowball in winter means nothing is wrong,” Obama said of the need to find solutions. “It’s not going to happen if we’re boasting about scrapping international treaties.”
     Lake Tahoe is the first stop on what is shaping up to be Obama’s world tour oriented toward shaping and cementing his environmental legacy.
     The president next flies to his home state of Hawaii, where he will participate in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress. Then it’s off to Midway, where he will survey the newly created marine reserve.
     Obama’s final stop is slated for China, where he will discuss how the two nations can partner to combat climate change.
     “It is great to be here with one of the greatest environmental presidents of all time in Barack Obama,” Boxer said in her opening remarks.
     And as Obama enters into the twilight of his stint as America’s leader, it’s clear that’s how he would like to be remembered.
     
     Photo: Sylas Wright

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