Opening Remarks by the President and the Vice President

Office of the Press Secretary
(Incline Village, Nevada)

For Immediate Release July 26, 1997


Hyatt Hotel
Incline Village, Nevada

11:55 A.M. PDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Please be seated, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much. It's a great honor to be here. And as you can imagine, it's a wonderful pleasure for the President and me to be able to come to this beautiful place and to take part in this important process.

A couple people, just as we were coming in to this room, said, why don't we have this down by the lake site this morning? And you want to know the answer? The answer is, there was no way to do that without closing down a public beach on a Saturday and we thought it would be better to let people continue enjoying this lake while we all go about the work of trying to preserve it for the future. (Applause.)

On behalf of the President, I want to acknowledge some of the distinguished guests who are here. Then I'll make some brief remarks and present the President. After the President's remarks, I'll call on some presenters to start us off, and then we'll have a series of five short panel discussions on topics that are critical to the future of Lake Tahoe.

First, let me acknowledge Governor Miller. We appreciate your hospitality, Governor, and thank you very much. And representing Governor Wilson, Doug Wheeler is present. We appreciate his presence. Of course, we're delighted to have the senators from the two states who are here -- Senator Harry Reid, who suggested this forum; Senator Richard Bryan, both from Nevada. And Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Barbara Boxer, both from California. Congressman Jim Gibbons and Congressman John Ensign, both from Nevada; and Congressman Dick Fazio, Congressman John Doolittle, Congressman George Miller, who was here yesterday -- all from California.

Members of the President's Cabinet who are here and who have been here, working hard on this issue include Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Carol Browner. Also, the Chair of the Council of Environmental Quality Katie McGinty. And all the members of the Tahoe Basin Steering Committee who are here -- we want to say a special word of thanks to you.

And there are two statewide elected officials, constitutional officers here -- the Attorney General of Nevada, Frankie Sue Del Papa, who was, incidentally, a former member of the TRPA, and Lt. Governor Gray Davis of California.

And, Mr. President, in addition to the Cabinet members, I want to note that the Secretary of Transportation, Rodney Slater, played a major role in the lead-up to today's conference, and his Deputy, Secretary Mort Downey, is here. And two other Deputy Secretaries are here -- both of them happen to be Californians -- Rich Ruminger, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture; and John Garamendi, Deputy Secretary of the Interior; and John Zhirsky, from the Department of the Army for Civil Works.

Mr. President, yesterday was my kind of day. I've had a chance to tell the President about this, but I got the better end of this deal. (Applause.) Right after I arrived in Lake Tahoe, a park ranger guided me on a hike near the Desolation Wilderness. The trail finished at a summit with a breathtaking view of the Fallen Leaf Lake where Tipper and I stayed last night, and a backdrop of the majestic Mount Tallac.

And then after the hike, I went to the Forest Service Visitors Center to take part in the conference on Lake Tahoe's future. And I want to emphasize that that discussion yesterday, which was very lengthy and very detailed, was actually a wrap-up session following a much lengthier and much more detailed series of intensive issue workshops, five of them led by members of the President's Cabinet and others, and all of them based on the premise that throughout the world, but especially here in Lake Tahoe, the environment and the economy go hand and hand.

Lake Tahoe demonstrates clearly that the economy is the environment, and the environment is the economy. That's the fundamental foundation of all of our conversations. And that's where we will start in the first of our five panels today.

But yesterday we talked in depth about Tahoe's stunning water clarity and how we can work together to keep Tahoe blue. We discussed the importance of forest health and what we must do to prevent wildfires and reduce erosion into the lake. And we spoke about transportation and its critical role, and recreation and tourism -- how we can balance the demands of development and traffic with the constant need to protect the air and the water.

The discussions yesterday yielded a lot of information and insights. The discussion on water clarity emphasized the fact that this lake is unique throughout the world, and the bright, cobalt blue quality just has to be preserved. Everybody agrees on that.

And there was a discussion of the critical role of nitrogen and phosphorus in feeding the algae growth, which is, of course, the main reason why the clarity is slowly disappearing. And the scientists make the point that the phosphorus is critical as a limiting factor, and that's why soil erosion must be controlled. And nitrogen, the other critical element, comes predominantly, it seems, from the emissions from cars and trucks and buses, both directly through the air and indirectly after being deposited on the land and then washed in with the soil erosion.

On the panel dealing with forest health, we had an extensive discussion about the history of the forest and what can be done in practical terms to restore forest health. We had an extremely interesting conversation about the planning that's under way to deal with the transportation issue. And I was extremely impressed with what the business community talked about for the future of recreation and tourism here to emphasize the quality of the recreation experience here at Lake Tahoe, the creation of partnerships and how in the future the economy and the environment will go hand in hand as well.

We heard, Mr. President, from a lot of people -- Democrats and Republicans, Nevadans and Californians, environmentalists and business owners, public officials, private citizens, and tribal leaders. There were a lot of different viewpoints, but there was one thing that everybody agreed on: this place is amazing. It's a national treasure that must be protected and preserved.

Lake Tahoe sits on the edge of two states, but it's smack-dab in the middle of paradise. And all who benefit from the Lake Tahoe Basin bear responsibility for keeping it that way. In fact, it's our moral obligation to be faithful stewards of our heritage and protect this area for future generations. So that's why we're here today -- to make sure that this special place is protected, as the President's doing with Yellowstone and the Everglades and the Grand Canyon. This is one of crown jewels, unique among them all.

We'll succeed if we remain committed and especially if we recognize the overriding importance of the other great asset here in Lake Tahoe, in addition to the natural beauty, the unique partnership and consensus that has emerged here.

Now, it is my pleasure to present the individual who has made possible and led the growing national consensus on protecting the environment and growing the economy at the same time; someone whose commitment to our national heritage is unparalleled, who understands that environmental protection and economic growth are one in the same, not only here, but all over our nation; someone who knows that we need to come together and find common ground if we're to preserve America's sacred ground.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of United States, Bill Clinton. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. First of all, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank all of you who have had anything to do with these efforts in working with us over the last several months. The members of the Cabinet and the deputy secretaries have been acknowledged. The members of the Congress have been acknowledged. The other distinguished state officials from California and Nevada have been acknowledged. But there are a lot of people who work for these federal agencies at other levels who have just been out here killing themselves for the last few months to try to make this a good, successful two days. And to all the citizens who worked with them, and to all the federal employees who are here, I want to thank all of you for what you did to help these last two days be successful. (Applause.)

In addition, there are four people who worked with us to help make these workshops and in this forum a success -- Katie McGinty, Jim Lyons, Tom Tuckman, Phil Bayles -- I can't count; six -- Jeff Bailey and Dave Van Note. And I want to thank them.

I want to say a special word of appreciation to the members of Congress from these two states who have proved that this is a bipartisan, perhaps even a nonpartisan endeavor, that we all have a stake, not just as Westerners, but as Americans, in not only preserving Lake Tahoe, but, if possible, reversing some of the difficulties of the last two years.

But I would be remiss if I did not say a special word of thanks to the person who thought this idea up and got my commitment months ago -- months ago -- to show up, if you'll forgive me, come hell or high water. And here we are in the middle of the budget negotiations we're trying to finish today back in Washington, but I am here because I promised Harry Reid months ago I would be here. (Applause.) Thank you.

I also want to thank the people who took us out on the boat today and who do all this wonderful research here, and everybody who took the Vice President around yesterday. When I got up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning my time, 2:00 a.m. your time, to come here today -- and I ought to be tired but I'm exhilarated, partly because of the beauty of the surroundings. And I always -- on the few times in my life I've been privileged to be at this great site, I've always been exhilarated by it.

The other reason I am pumped up is that when I saw the Vice President this morning he was virtually glowing, and I knew he had been here in his element. (Laughter). And the minute we got on the boat, I got my Marine Biology 101 lecture -- (laughter) -- about, phosphorous, nitrogen, what does what, what does the other. I looked at the plankton. I mean, I could pass anybody's test now. (Laughter.)

And you have made Al Gore a happy man. (Laughter and applause.) He thinks that he is a -- this may be one of the deepest lakes in the world, but he's just about 6 inches below heaven right now. (Laughter.)

Let me say that the first stewards of this land, of course, were the Washoe People. They tell us that Lake Tahoe was the product of the Good Spirit's benevolent hand. They've also treated it that way. Perhaps now more and more Americans and more and more citizens of the world are tending to look at our environment that way. I certainly hope so.

When Washoe families came to the lake each spring, they blessed the water and shared its bounty. And when they left their campsites each winter, they hardly left a track behind. Today, it appears to me that all those who are involved in this great endeavor revere this region and have worked hard to keep it safe from harm.

Your cooperation to protect Lake Tahoe is, frankly, as the Vice President said, an outstanding model for the work we have to do to protect all kinds of national treasures and deal with all kinds of environmental challenges in the new century. And if I could be quite candid here, one of the reasons that I wanted to come here was not only to highlight to the nation the importance of Lake Tahoe, but also to show the nation that there is a place where environmentalists and business people and ordinary citizens, where Republicans and Democrats, where tribal leaders and governmental people, where everybody is working together in common cause recognizing that there cannot be an artificial dividing line between preserving our natural heritage and growing our economy.

That is the fundamental lesson as Americans we have to absorb if we hope to be able to have our grandchildren and our grandchildren's grandchildren 100 years from now celebrating the kind of country we're celebrating on the edge of this new century. So you are doing something important for the country. (Applause.)

As all of you know, the Vice President and I got to go out on the UC Davis research vessel this morning to see how the scientists monitor the lake's clarity and quality, and we also learned just how not only pristine Lake Tahoe still is, but how much it has degraded over the last 40 years or so. We could see from measurable evidence and the charts that are tacked up inside the vessel what we have to do to reverse the decline.

We also have gotten the message in the workshops the Vice President has described. Over the last two months, I think it's astonishing that more than 1,000 people have participated in these workshops. I believe this is the seventh such meeting -- I think that's accurate. And for all of those 1,000 people plus, I want to thank you because the announcements that will be made today and the work that will be done in the months and years ahead is in no small measure the direct result of your willingness to give your time to participate in this process.

We learned that all of us have to find even better ways to work together. And I think you know that just a few moments ago, I signed an executive order to ensure greater cooperation among all the governments, agencies and businesses working here. It's not a top-down federal mandate, but a pledge to collaborate and share resources more than ever. We will work with you, we will support you, but you -- the states, the tribes, the local citizens -- you will lead the way. The executive order simply embodies the ratification of our obligation to help and to support.

The workshops also convinced us that the federal government must take new actions now to help protect Lake Tahoe's environment and, with it, the area's economy and quality of life. Today, with real projects based on listening to local people, we commit to take more than 25 specific actions and more than double the federal government's investment in the basin in each of the next two years to well over $50 million. (Applause.)

Among the things that we intend to do are, first, to expand our efforts to restore the forest and reduce the risk of catastrophic fires. The Forest Service will use prescribed fire and other means to clean out the dry brush and wood on more than 3,500 federally owned lots and 3,000 acres of open forest each year.

Second, we'll take steps to protect and restore the lake's fabled water quality. We will work with UC Davis to develop computer tools that can predict how various watershed improvements will contribute to water quality. Every federal agency here will work to increase efforts to restore natural habitat, reduce erosion, and keep the water clean.

One crucial measure we'll work hard to deliver is a new pipeline to carry waste water out of the Tahoe Basin. (Applause.) And I thank all the members who have supported that, but I particularly want to recognize the efforts of Senator Boxer and Congressmen Fazio and Doolittle.

Third, we will help to cut down on traffic congestion and auto pollution by joining with you to improve mass transit throughout the region. I'm pleased to report that the U.S. Postal Service will help by switching to cleaner natural gas trucks and expanding home mail delivery to people on the west side of the lake. The Sierra Nevada's legendary 19th century mail carrier, Snowshoe Thompson, would probably be proud of that. (Laughter.)

And let me say, if I might do a little home cooking here, there are natural gas buses manufactured in Chattanooga, Tennessee -- (laughter) -- now being sold all over the world, now in use in the rainforest in Costa Rica, that would be very good for reducing air pollution around the lake. (Laughter.) And I know someone who would be helpful in getting you in touch with the appropriate people. (Applause.)

Finally, the Vice President met with Washoe elders yesterday and announced that we will assist the tribe in their efforts to protect sacred areas and preserve their culture. (Applause.) The Forest Service intends to provide approximately 350 acres to the Washoe for use in growing traditional plants, and another section of land where the Washoe will establish a cultural center. As part of this action, the Forest Service intends to provide tribal members access to the water's edge for the first time in a century. (Applause.)

I learned today from their leader that the Washoe first wrote to the President of the United States asking help on these matters in 1877. It just took 120 years, but I can tell you, from now on, the mail will run more rapidly between Lake Tahoe and Washington, D.C. (Applause.)

We hope to do more beyond today's announcement as we work with leaders from California and Nevada and Lake Tahoe's many friends in Congress. I also want to recognize the efforts of Governor Miller, Governor Wilson earlier this week in recommending their states' resources to the lake -- recommitting their states' resources to the lake.

I'm convinced we can succeed in this endeavor. And, as I said before, I'm convinced, as we do, the model of cooperation you have established will be a model that we'll want to follow throughout the country.

We have a lot of work to do today to preserve the pristine Head Water's Forest in northern California, something of great concern I know to Senator Feinstein and many others; to restore the Florida Everglades; to protect the endangered Sterling Forest in the Northeast; to save Yellowstone from gold mining. We have an awful lot of work to do I think in perhaps our biggest challenge of all in confronting the challenge of global climate change as we move into a new century.

President Theodore Roosevelt said, standing not far from here, "We are not building this country of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages." Well, as we approach the 21st century and deal with these huge mega-challenges like climate change, you have given us a way to meet the challenge of the ages -- by working together and understanding what our forebears knew centuries ago. We cannot divide our quest for prosperity from our obligation to hand nature, God's great gift to us, on down to the generations.

We can do that. You have shown us the way. And we are determined to do our part. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum

Lake Tahoe Facts and Figures

Summary of Three Issue Workshops

Opening Remarks

Press Briefing

Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum

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