President Barack Obama, fixed against a pristine backdrop of the Sierra Nevada, issued a forceful defense Wednesday of his administration’s policies to address climate change, warning that rising temperatures could lay waste to decades of conservation efforts at Lake Tahoe and throughout the United States.
Obama’s remarks at the annual Lake Tahoe Summit came at the height of a presidential election in which Republican candidate Donald Trump has sharply criticized both the international climate pact signed last year in Paris and federal policies to shift power production to renewable sources.
Without mentioning Trump by name, Obama said the nation will deprive future generations of clear water and clean air “if we boast about how we’re going to scrap international treaties or have elected officials who are alone in the world in denying climate change or put our energy and environmental policies in the hands of big polluters.”
Hillary Clinton, for whom Obama is campaigning, leads Trump by a narrow margin in Nevada, a contested state still suffering from lingering effects of the recession. Many Republicans have argued that Obama’s climate-change policies – and those advocated by Clinton – are too expensive and unfairly burden business.
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Obama, seeking to buttress his environmental legacy before leaving office in five months, said that while the United States has taken action on climate change, “we’ve had the longest streak of job creation on record.”
Obama called progress on Lake Tahoe’s restoration evidence of the nation’s ability to protect its natural resources and he ridiculed politicians who do not accept mainstream climate science.
“You don’t have to be a scientist,” he said. “You have to read, or listen to scientists to know that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows us that climate change is caused by human activity.”
Obama’s first visit to Lake Tahoe comes at a precarious time for the lake.
Beleaguered by higher temperatures and dry conditions, Lake Tahoe became warmer and cloudier last year, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis. The average surface temperature of the lake, 53.3 degrees, was the warmest ever recorded.
When President Bill Clinton visited Lake Tahoe in 1997, the attention he focused on the lake was widely credited with rallying support for federal restoration funding. Nearly 20 years later – and after years of failed efforts to renew funding – environmentalists held out hope that Obama’s visit could nudge Congress closer to approving more than $400 million for ongoing restoration and wildfire-prevention projects in the area.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., praised Nevada’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, for his work on Lake Tahoe restoration, and California Gov. Jerry Brown said “the human imagination is so encouraged and nourished” by the lake that “Republicans and Democrats actually work together to do good for Tahoe.”
“Beauty transcends politics,” Brown said.
But the summit came amid heightened partisanship in Washington, D.C., and the tension of a presidential election a little more than two months away. Unlike the bipartisan roster of speakers featured at previous Tahoe summits, no Republican politician addressed the crowd.
Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican from Elk Grove whose district includes the California side of the lake and who has called for less-expansive Tahoe funding, and is focused primarily on fire prevention, said he was not invited.
“In the past, the summit has been an opportunity for the community and its representatives to come together to share different points of view and to have a bipartisan discussion of the challenges and opportunities that face Tahoe,” he said in an email. “I hope in the future that the summit returns to that tradition, especially given the catastrophic decline in forest health that threatens the Basin.”