Environmentalists object to bill that would change Tahoe rules

A women cools down with her two dogs in Lake Tahoe at Zephr Cove.
(Larry Steagall, Associated Press)

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — As political leaders from California and Nevada gathered on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe to discuss ways to protect it, environmentalists protested that a bill in California could reverse nearly two decades of environmental improvements.

The measure before the Legislature would codify an agreement reached last year between the two states’ leaders to limit the powers of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which sets environmental rules for development on both the California and Nevada sides of the lake. The agency’s 15-member governing board includes seven appointed members from California and seven from Nevada, with one non-voting presidential appointee.


Nevada officials had threatened to pull out of the 40-year-old two-state agency unless local governments were given more control over development decisions around the lake. U.S Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joined California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and Gov. Jerry Brown in criticizing the Sierra Club’s opposition to the alterations and lamented the organization’s decision to file a lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento in hopes of blocking the proposed new rules.

Reid said he urged the Sierra Club’s leaders not to file the suit because the deal reflected a bipartisan agreement between leaders from both states.

“I tried to prevail upon them, they didn’t listen to me,” Reid told reporters Monday as a light summer rain rippled the lake behind him at Sand Harbor State Park. “I’m right and they’re wrong.”

Nevada has made the changes already, in a bill signed by Sandoval earlier this year, and the legislation in California has wide bipartisan support. It is co-sponsored by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), a preeminent environmental voice, and Republican Sen. Ted Gaines, whose district includes the western half of Lake Tahoe.


“California ceded its authority to the state of Nevada to dictate the terms of the agreement,” said Sierra Club spokeswoman Laurel Ames, who also attended the Lake Tahoe meeting Monday. “There is going to be a lot more development along the lake because of this watering down of the existing plan.”

Ames said the revised plan would allow counties and towns around Lake Tahoe to adopt pollution controls weaker than those currently in place. Critics of the pact also said it would allow building on hundreds of acres of currently undeveloped land and denser development closer to the lake.


Pavley, who has authored groundbreaking legislation limiting greenhouse gas emissions and requiring cars to emit less pollution, said the bill was a thoughtful compromise that would still protect Lake Tahoe.

“A lot of people,” she said, “just want the status quo.”