Tuesday August 20th, 2019

Cortez Masto at Lake Tahoe Summit: Climate Change Innovation Is Up to Us

Cortez Masto Tahoe Summit 2019

“It’s up to us, working in close collaboration—the way we have right here in Tahoe for more than two decades—to come up with innovative approaches to climate.” 

“There is a heroic role for each and every one of us to play in the millennia-old story of Tahoe, to make the lake and its communities more resilient to climate change.” 

“So let all of us use today as an occasion to challenge ourselves to think a little longer, work a little harder, dream a little bigger about this lake.”

South Lake Tahoe, Calif. –  U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) delivered remarks at the Lake Tahoe Summit highlighting the need for cooperation to protect Lake Tahoe from the effects of climate change, including the impact of wildfires. Below are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. Thank you to everyone for joining us here today to celebrate our progress and to find new approaches to sustaining this unparalleled American treasure.

I want to thank Senator Feinstein for convening the 23rd Tahoe Summit, and for all the hard work that has made today possible.

Thanks to my colleagues in Washington, Congressman Garamendi and Congressman McClintock. Your involvement in this work is so vital.

I also want to recognize Governor Sisolak from the Silver State for his commitment to the lake.

And my special thanks to Governor Newsom, for coming to speak about the challenges of fires here and across the West.

Most of all, thank you to everyone from the local and tribal communities here today, as well as all the individuals and organizations working to preserve Tahoe. It’s clear how committed you are to caring for and protecting one of the country’s most famed natural resources.

As you know, the story of the Tahoe Summit began in 1997, when Senator Harry Reid brought together government, business, environmentalists, tribal leadership, and so many others to keep this stunning part of the country healthy for generations to come.

At that first Tahoe Summit, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Gore gave the opening remarks. Out of curiosity, I looked back at what they said to see what’s changed over the past two decades.

I saw that they touched on many of the issues that we continue to make progress on today.

They talked about the clarity of this gorgeous blue water.

They mentioned the joy of recreation and tourism at Tahoe. The importance of restoring our forests and preventing wildfires.

They discussed issues of transportation and development.

And they emphasized that economy and environment aren’t in opposition. They go hand in hand.

But the one thing that they barely touched on twenty-three years ago was climate change.

Oh, they knew about it. The President mentioned it twice, and he called it “perhaps our biggest challenge of all . . . as we move into a new century.”

But it wasn’t their focus. It was a footnote.

Today, we don’t have the luxury of sidestepping climate change.

Especially not when this administration has abandoned America’s crucial global leadership on the issue. When Donald Trump says that the weather changes “both ways.”  

We cannot put off solutions to carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, and we can’t ignore the effects of climate change, visible all around us.

It’s up to us, working in close collaboration—the way we have right here in Tahoe for more than two decades—to come up with innovative approaches to climate.

And here’s why: climate change is woven into many of the problems Tahoe faces—and into the solutions, too.

Take recreation; . . .  Climate change has created boom and bust years of snowfall at Tahoe’s ski resorts.

Or forests; . . . Dry conditions are perfect for the bark beetles destroying the lake’s trees. 

Or the lake itself. Warming water stresses native species and makes the lake more welcoming for invasive weeds, clams, and snails.

But of all the issues that climate change influences, perhaps the scariest is wildfire.

Just last year when we convened here at the Summit, smoke clouded the otherwise gorgeous summer day.

Today, we stand less than five miles from the site of the Angora fire, which ripped through this community and burned 254 houses in 2007.

And though pine saplings have started to sprout and homes have been rebuilt, the scars of that fire will remain for years.

But the fires are getting more frequent. In 2018, we had more than 58,000 wildfires. Fires that killed a hundred people and destroyed the homes of 23 thousand more families.

As I’m sure you’re too aware, that includes the fire in Paradise, California, that alone killed 85 people.

And it includes the Martin Fire, the largest in Nevada’s history, and the largest in the entire country last year.

The Martin Fire consumed well over 400,000 acres. At one point it was 57 miles long and 31 miles wide, so big it was visible from space.

As with many climate change risks, wildfires hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

Wildfires are deadly for the elderly and the disabled, who have trouble evacuating quickly when precious seconds matter.

Less affluent neighborhoods have more trouble coping with fire risks.

Predominantly African American and Latino communities are 50 percent more vulnerable to wildfire, according to recent estimates.

And Native Americans are six times more vulnerable, in part because remote areas are more prone to devastating fires. 

We have to do more to prevent fires, to make our communities more fire-resilient, and to enable residents to get to safety when fire strikes.

Just yesterday, I hosted a panel discussion in Reno to talk about wildfires in Nevada, with representatives from the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, the State of Nevada, The Nature Conservancy, the Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition, and many, many others.

We had a practical and productive conversation about how to pool our resources to prevent and combat wild and rangeland fires. And I know we can learn from the collaboration and cooperation of stakeholders here at Tahoe working to reduce fire risk.

To mitigate fires and other climate-change related problems at Tahoe, I’m working hard to confront the inescapable challenge of climate change.

As part of that effort, I want us to make an immediate change by leveraging the power of electric vehicles. Not only do EVs help cut carbon emissions, but they also don’t spew nitrous oxide, one of the largest sources of pollution in the lake.

I’m pushing to get companies, states, and local governments to invest in electric charging stations and clean fuel infrastructure, especially in our pristine national forests and parks.

As one of the most heavily visited parts of the country, Tahoe is already leading the way in creative plans for transportation and telecommunications—as last month’s $2.1 million federal grant to the Tahoe Transportation District recognized.

Besides clean cars, I’m working for clean energy.

I’ve sponsored Senate bills that create tax incentives for renewable technologies like fuel cells and microturbines, and that harness the vast resources of the Silver State in geothermal and solar.

I’m also using my seat on the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis to amplify the voices of communities, like Tahoe’s, that are intimately affected by climate change. 

But I’m just one part of a much bigger picture. The thing is, we all need to do what we can, where we can.

There is a heroic role for each and every one of us to play in the millennia-old story of Tahoe, to make the lake and its communities more resilient to climate change.

It’s up to each of us to figure out exactly what we can contribute. And then to reach out to the partners who will make our vision a reality.

Maybe, like the folks at the Sugar Pine Foundation, you have an idea about how to find and plant stronger and more resistant trees to help reforest the north shore, where those majestic pines have been dying due to drought and insects and fungus.

Or maybe you’re part of the partnership that restored Third and Incline Creeks to keep fine sediment from spilling into the lake—and beautified the shoreline in the process.

Maybe you belong to more than a dozen public and private organizations that came together to support the new Tahoe East Shore Trail, connecting Incline Village to Sand Harbor State Park. The project provides a safe and scenic route to get to Tahoe’s beaches by bike or on foot rather than by car, and it added erosion and drainage control, too.

Or maybe you’re a scientist, computer programmer, or economist with a completely new idea, something none of us has ever thought of before—new ways to alert people to oncoming wildfires, or to route traffic around the lake to decrease congestion.

So let all of us use today as an occasion to challenge ourselves to think a little longer, work a little harder, dream a little bigger about this lake.

To write ourselves into its story a little more indelibly.

Because if you’re anything like me, you love this place. And when we love something, we shelter it, cherish, and protect it.

So that its story continues long into the future.

Thank you so much for all you do.



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