GOP balance may tip scales against Tahoe

In a sea of $19 billion worth of appropriation bills sits a relatively small pile of cash earmarked to protect Lake Tahoe.

Environmentalists fear that pile, $27 million, will be in jeopardy when a Republican-controlled Congress is seated in January and decides what to fund. The senator who helped get the money earmarked for Tahoe harbors the same fear.

"It was hard enough to get money when the Democrats held the majority," said Tessa Hafen, a spokeswoman for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. "It will be even harder this year with the senator being in the minority."

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a bistate organization funded by the legislatures of Nevada and California, took its own hit this year when its budget was slashed by nearly $470,000 because of state deficits.

Carl Hasty, deputy director at the TRPA, said he doesn't fear a Republican Congress as much as world events or a recession.

"We've been through a Republican-controlled Congress before and been successful for Tahoe," Hasty said. "Tahoe is a non-partisan issue. What's more of a challenge is the national competition from issues like going to war or the economy."

The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, approved in November 2000, aims to provide $300 million to protect the lake; $30 million a year to the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit for 10 years. The act is the federal government's share of the Environmental Improvement Program, which calls for $908 million to fund environmental projects at Lake Tahoe Basin.

Rochelle Nason, executive director at the League to Save Lake Tahoe, who helped craft the act, said thus far the federal government has failed to make good on its promise.

"We are worried, more worried than before," Nason said. "Lake Tahoe appropriations do not have a strong advocacy on the Republican side right now. We hope Congressman Doolittle will step in to fill some of that void. We'll probably have to work a lot harder to just to keep Tahoe in the same place."

Rep. John Doolittle, whose district includes the California side of the Tahoe Basin, said Thursday that Lake Tahoe remains a priority of President Bush and the Republican Party. He said environmentalists can be misleading.

"I think you're just hearing the Democrat propaganda machine, which environmental groups are a part of," Doolittle, R-Rocklin, said. "Check the record. President Bush is getting more funding to the lake than Clinton did. The funding this year is not as high as last year, but we've had some extraordinary developments from attacks to a downturn in economics. I think you'll find this administration remains committed to Lake Tahoe."


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