STATELINE, Nev. — President Obama told renewable-energy advocates here Wednesday that climate change ranks as one of the foremost threats facing the United States and the globe and that the challenges of conservation and combating climate change are connected.
Speaking before a crowd of several thousand at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harvey’s, a casino just across the state line from California, the president extolled the virtues of the outdoors in the shadows of the Sierra Tahoe range.
“Economies like this one live and die by their natural resources,” he said. “And conservation is more than just putting up a plaque and calling it a park.”
Obama’s speech at the Annual Lake Tahoe Summit, which now-Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) launched two decades ago, marks the first of a three-stop domestic tour aimed at highlighting how global warming is reshaping the nation’s conservation policies. Later in the day, the president will travel to his home state of Hawaii, where he will address Pacific Island leaders and environmentalists, before traveling Thursday to a marine national monument he expanded last week.
Touting his recent national-monument designations, the president said he's made them a priority because when it comes to the country's natural resources, "we shouldn’t be the last to enjoy it."
"I think about my two daughters and Harry’s 19 grandchildren — yeah, that’s a lot of grandkids," he quipped.
The administration announced a handful of modest measures in conjunction with his visit, including a $29.5 million Interior Department grant dedicated to removing standing dead or dying trees in the area that could provide potential fuel for wildfires. The Environmental Protection Agency is providing roughly $230,000 to manage and reduce the region’s storm-water runoff, and the Fish and Wildlife Service will provide nearly $1 million for eight projects aimed at preventing the spread of invasive zebra and quagga mussels from nearby water bodies to Lake Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe has experienced intense climate effects in recent years:n 2015 it had its warmest average surface water temperature ever recorded, and the most severe western drought in possibly a millennium has also ravaged the region.
Speaking before the president, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said the region’s natural beauty was so extraordinary that Republicans and Democrats had joined to safeguard it.
“This is still a pristine wonder,” Brown said. “Beauty transcends politics.”
A separate set of measures will focus on California’s Salton Sea, which is its largest lake and is slated to receive substantially less water from the Colorado River starting in 2018. Federal and state authorities announced they will work cooperatively to expand habitat there: The National Audubon Society estimates that the reduced water allocation will expose up to 64,000 acres of its lake bed.
On Wednesday, the Energy Department announced an initiative aimed at expanding geothermal energy development in California, allocating $29 million for the pioneering Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE). The goal is to generate new geothermal energy from around the Salton Sea.
The Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service also finalized agreements with the Sierra Valley Conservation Planning Program and the Salton Sea Authority totaling more than $17 million for planning how to manage activities in the lake as well as in the Sierra Valley.
A coalition of private groups also pledged to provide $10 million over five years to protect the environment and promote renewable energy and restoration at the Salton Sea.
“This is the best opportunity we have had in years to make a real difference for the more than 650,000 people who live around the Salton Sea, as well as the millions of birds and other wildlife that depend on the sea for their survival,” said Audubon president and chief executive David Yarnold.