THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Incline Village, Nevada) ______________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release July 26, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY KATIE MCGINTY AND JOE LOCKHART
Hyatt Regency Hotel Incline Village, Nevada
11:09 A.M. PDT
MS. MCGINTY: Can I open with a few statements before taking questions? And I know you've gotten some background already, but let me just say that today the President recognizes Lake Tahoe as a basin and a lake of national significance and prominence. We have engaged in an exhaustive process, listening to the people of this region -- people from all walks of life who have come together and clearly and compellingly described to us both the values of and the challenges related to Lake Tahoe. The President's actions today are based on the views, the requests, the very sound suggestions of the people who have lived here and who have been working in this region to get in front of the challenges they face.
We held three meetings leading up to the Vice President's meeting yesterday, the President's meeting today -- when we step back and look at that, more than 1,000 people will have participated in getting us to the place where we are today which is a place of partnership, which is a place of determination, and which is a place of a real plan of action to begin to take the steps that are so necessary to save this national priority area.
Water quality, a top issue heard from every corner, whether it was business interests or environment interests: the administration is urging Congress and is prepared to invest a significant sum, for example, in better moving sewage out of the basin, that sewage which otherwise could be contaminating the lake.
Working in partnership with UC Davis and TRPA, what we heard yesterday is we've tried lots of things, we have lots of ideas of how further to improve water quality; we need real-time monitoring so that we understand which things work better. EPA will step up to the plate and support TRPA and UC Davis with a very important new monitoring system and new technology to help them do that.
Forests -- forests are an issue in and of their own right in terms of declining forest health. But there are secondary effects we've learned, too. The declining health of the forest also leads to the declining health of the lake. So there the Forest Service is stepping up to the plate, one, to look at the forest road issue. Those road sometimes act as a chute for sediments right into the lake. The Forest Service will take on the job of retiring 29 miles of these roads every year for the next 10 years with the goal of achieving within a decade the retirement of all roads that are not currently used -- a very important step.
We also learned that the geography of this area is challenging in some unique ways, not the least of which because of the interlocking ownership of federal and some private -- whether it's commercial or residential lands. The Forest Service will work to try to remove the fire threat in those areas as well by taking on an effort to thin some of those smaller trees and underbrush which are just kindling for major fires.
In addition, on Forest Service lands itself, the Forest Service will work to better manage 3,000 acres a year. A thousand acres of that will involve prescribed burns so that we can have controlled burns and hopefully mitigate, if not begin to remove the threat of catastrophic wild fire. The other 2,000 acres will be involved in the kind of thinning, clearing out the underbrush which also is a top priority that we have learned by listening to people here.
Transportation -- again, a challenge in and of its own right in terms of the traffic congestion that definitely reduces the quality of experience that people have when they are here, but with secondary effects -- run-off leading to further degradation of water quality and emissions leading to both deterioration of air and water quality.
There the Vice President announced yesterday a series of initiatives -- $17.8 million to help improve the transportation situation. Six million of that is targeted to repair flood damage. Many other pieces of it, though, will be specifically designed to support the intergovernmental partnership which is forming here. As I understand it, there are more than seven governmental jurisdictions; that adds up to a very disconnected transportation system and certainly adds up to an unappealing system of alternative transportation. Those governments want to pull their efforts together to make them coherent and consistent, so that people will use alternative forms of transportation more consistently.
We will support those efforts. EPA and DOT are going to work to create a coordinated transportation system. The Forest Service I believe will be supporting efforts to provide land so that there can be transportation centers -- what they call intermodal centers -- so that you can drive up to a place, leave your car, but then have convenient access to the lake area.
And, finally, the Postal Service is stepping up to the plate as well. After listening again to the people of the region in these conferences we have had, they've decided on their on accord to eliminate their antiquated diesel mail delivery systems and are going to clean compressed natural gas. This is a big step and will have a very significant impact on air and water quality, we believe.
Finally, and probably most importantly, we can get immersed in the facts and figures of this lake, but seeing the kind of tensions over environmental issues, natural resources issues, any kind of issues in all parts of the country, and seeing the inability of people to get together -- there's something different here. The President is going to honor the spirit of this place, the soul of this place, by saying that we, too, will come together in the kind of partnership that the majesty of this place seems to have drawn together.
He just signed an executive order that will direct his agencies not only to work better among themselves, but to work in the service of the tribe, of the local governments, of the state governments, of the regional planning agency that have been compelled because of the beauty and special nature of this area, towards a common vision of how to move forward and achieve progress.
Related to that, and probably of top importance, after more than 100 years of having their requests fall on deaf ears, the President will recognize the sovereignty, the leadership, the spiritual leadership of the Washoe tribe. Through special agreements with them we will afford them the opportunity to build a cultural center, to have access to this lake again, and to have access lands for the purpose of managing and collecting traditional and spiritually important herbs and medicinals.
So wrapping it all up, we are pleased, and the President is very pleased to have the opportunity to be part of the partnership that is here. We will support that partnership with very real and concrete measures that address the problems that the people of the region themselves have identified for us.
Now your turn.
Q Why did the President make the $300 million spending commitment that the regional planners were looking to the federal government for as Washington's share of the cleanup effort?
MS. MCGINTY: Well, let me mention a couple things. First of all, the President is going to announce a commitment that amounts to a doubling of the federal investment in this region for each of the next two years. On top of that, with these partnership agreements, the President is saying, in 90 days I want you to have established the memoranda of agreement, the partnerships with the regional planning agency and others with the purpose of continuing this increased federal investment when you agree what the plan of action should be.
So the next two years we will double our investment here, but most importantly, the President has directed the agencies to let the local citizens and governments know this is a permanent and long-time thing for us. We are here to be a partner in this effort.
MR. LOCKHART: Can I point out one other thing? The announcement that was made earlier this week was over a 15 to 20 year span. We're talking about concrete actions right now. That is all being formulated. So I don't think that these two things are inconsistent.
Q Well, but, Joe, why didn't he at least give them like a four-year commitment? Why didn't he at least give them a four-year commitment -- he's in office for --
MS. MCGINTY: It's part of the budget.
Q Yes, but two years is --
MR. LOCKHART: There's money in the budget for five years. But what we're doing now is doubling the money for the next two years. And then, as Katie just said, we'll look at where we go from there.
Q Right, but you're not making a commitment to them after that, if we're looking at it after that.
MS. MCGINTY: We are making a commitment that we are going to be here in full partnership. What we want to do is make sure that we understand the priorities that the region will identify and we'll work in partnership on those. I mean, the whole point here is for us not to predetermine what we think is the best approach or best remedy.
Are we in a position right now then to say with exact decimal points and dollars and cents beyond these next two years? No, but we are in a position to say that this commitment is real and is going to be lasting to this region.
MR. JOHNSON: We're committed to expanding after the first two years, but we're only announcing things where there are specific projects.
MR. LOCKHART: The other point on their announcement is they're -- it's a difference between concrete, what we're going to do and they're in the early part of the planning stages for the next 10, 15, 20 years. So they've sort of set that goal. And it's not inconsistent, I don't think, with what we're announcing today. We're just not -- in a sense, we're further along as far as what announcement is today as opposed to what they were talking about earlier in the week. So I don't think the two things are inconsistent.
MS. MCGINTY: The other thing -- we do have details here. These are specific projects that will move forward now. The announcements earlier this week don't bear that characteristic and, in fact, I think we need to sit down and figure out is some of the money there actually federal expenditures that, for example, come through the Clean Water Act Revolving Fund, the Safe Drinking Water Act Revolving Fund, the Department of Transportation funds. I would suspect that that probably is the case, and those are federal investments. So I think there's probably a little bookkeeping that's going to need to be done with regard to the proposals that have been made earlier.
And related to that, I saw at least press reporting today that those earlier announcements now are contemplated not over 10 years, but 20 years, in fact. So I think that there are still some questions with regard to those earlier announcements.
Q Katie, before you mentioned that there was a $17.8 million transportation investment. Is that one year, two years, five years? What's the --
MR. JOHNSON: It's a combination. That $17.8 million is all being committed now. A lot of that, by the way, is elsewhere in Nevada outside of this basin. So the $17 million transportation project the Vice President announced yesterday -- most of that actually is not part of the $26.6 increment that we're talking about here.
Q How much money then on transportation efforts are included in today's $26.6 million?
MR. JOHNSON: I'll add it up in a second.
MS. MCGINTY: Are they itemized in there, Brian?
MR. JOHNSON: Yes, I'll come back.
Q Katie, you all are essentially endorsing the efforts here, local and state, to clean up the area, right? Are there exceptions to what has been proposed or elements of the proposal to clean up the area that you don't agree with?
MS. MCGINTY: There's nothing that I can think of that we would have a difference on where we are. All of the initiatives that we announced today also are the product of the consultation we have done. So this reflects to sort of combined view of the diverse parties we've spoken to.
I think -- it may be related to the earlier question -- the details of what this basin and the region will want to do further to take on the challenge are yet to be fleshed out. And so, we can't anticipate all of those things. It's part of the reason why this monitoring investment has been identified as such a priority investment because there are different ideas out there. Only science will tell us what the best investment really is for achieving, for example, water quality.
Q Well, one example is that in addition to these larger efforts to clean up or to deal with the forests or to deal with the water pollution, they're also announcing or they have plans here to impact people who use boats or use jet skis. Do you endorse that?
MS. MCGINTY: I don't believe we have a position on it at all. I mean, it's a relatively new initiative. We'll look at it. I don't know that we actually have a role in making that decision. I think that is the province of the TRPA.
Q When you say the federal government is here, this is a permanent commitment and you're going to be here and make this effort succeed -- as I understand it, the federal government owns about 75 percent of the land around here. How responsible is Washington for the degradation that has occurred today?
MS. MCGINTY: Oh, I think that there is no doubt that, for example, on the forest management side that we have learned as we go along. I don't know that this is an issue of fault so much as -- across the country, and this region is no exception, we understand that vast clear-cutting practices, for example, have adverse side effects. We are seeing some of those side effects here.
The emphasis that we have -- the new emphasis that we have over the last year and a half or so on prescribed burns is in part the product of learning that perhaps Smokey Bear was a little bit more successful than -- was a little bit too successful and that, in fact, there is a role for natural fire systems to minimize the possibility of catastrophic fire.
So no doubt that lessons have been and are being learned and that we're committed to taking new course just like the business leadership in this community wants to stake out a new course and environmentalists want to in the sense of working with, as opposed to in conflict with, different parties.
So, yes, mistakes have been made. We're learning. We're moving forward.
Q Katie, the President has often shown himself to be a soft touch when it comes to helping California. And we saw the high-profile role that Vice President Gore played yesterday. Why shouldn't we suspect that political motives are at play here in this aid program?
MS. MCGINTY: This has been a -- not a small investment of our time, effort, or energy here describing these conferences leading up to this point. If politics was the only motivation, it's a lot -- you can achieve a political purpose a lot easier than the time and effort and energy we have invested here. That's one.
Two, every aspect of this effort has been completely nonpartisan. The groups that we have brought together come with all kind of life perspectives and political perspectives. So there is just nothing here that has been about anything other than achieving consensus among the variety of people and then committing the federal government to work in support of people who live here and work here and who are committed to this region.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MS. MCGINTY: Okay, great. Thanks.
MR. LOCKHART: Anything else?
Q Do you have any idea about where the budget talks -- or what happened in the budget talks today?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it started at about 12:00 p.m. Eastern time, and I checked in a little while ago and we hadn't heard any word out. So we're still at the same point of -- what was our phrase yesterday -- slow and painful progress.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:28 A.M. PDT