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Jerry Brown's Climate Campaign Meshes Well At Tahoe Summit

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Lake Tahoe on Aug. 24, 2015, as seen from the site of the 19th Lake Tahoe Summit. (John Myers/KQED)

ZEPHYR COVE, Nevada -- Perhaps the stunning blue lake waters were the inspiration for Gov. Jerry Brown to offer a crystal-clear message at Lake Tahoe's annual environmental summit: Opponents in the political fight over climate change better be ready.

"I have no intention of backing down," said Brown in regard to the current fight over one new hot-button climate change bill at the state Capitol -- though his remarks seemed in line with his general viewpoint on the environmental challenges he sees facing California.

"We're going to intensify our efforts at bringing lower carbon fuels and lower carbon pollution," he said. And then, to put a fine point on it: "We're going to attack this problem of climate change in a very positive way."

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Lake Tahoe Summit on Aug. 24, 2015 in Zephyr Cove, NV.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the Lake Tahoe Summit on Aug. 24, 2015, in Zephyr Cove, Nevada. (John Myers/KQED)

The governor joined Nevada officials, as well as regional members of California's congressional delegation and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco, for Monday's two-hour event on the Tahoe shoreline that emphasized cooperation and collaboration to preserve the alpine lake's cobalt-blue waters.

But even for a lake whose clarity has improved since the first summit in 1997, there's a political murkiness to efforts at protection. For almost a decade , efforts have stalled in Washington, D.C., to renew federal funding for a variety of Tahoe lake and regional environmental projects.


This year, two very different visions of new federal help for the Tahoe region have emerged: one from Feinstein and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., to allocate $415 million in funding; and a much leaner version from U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, that would spend about $60 million and focus most of the money on forest fire prevention.

McClintock said his proposal was about as good as it gets when it comes to the budget demands of his fellow Republicans in the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Talk without action is just talk," McClintock told the crowd at the event.

So what does Brown think of the small-is-all-we-can-get approach?

"Smaller versions come from smaller minds," the governor told reporters after the event. "And Lake Tahoe, and the environment, are big."

Brown used his own speech at the lakeside summit to urge efforts that help "de-carbonize" the atmosphere. While he's been a frequent guest at the annual event, the governor seemed eager for a more expansive fight on environmental issues.

He has not taken a position on the Legislature's most-talked-about bill, Senate Bill 350 by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. But the bill would codify three climate change efforts the governor laid out in his January inaugural: More renewable energy, more energy efficient vehicles, and a cut in vehicle petroleum use by up to 50 percent. The bill is now the target of an intense lobbying and public relations campaign on both sides.

The governor, while not endorsing the specific language, made it clear he's working behind the scenes to find a bill that will make it through the Legislature and to his desk.

And Brown seemed energized for the fight. "The oil industry is in deep trouble," he told reporters.

What about the ad campaign launched by an oil industry-funded group that warns of potential gas rationing, or worse, if SB350 becomes law?

"The petroleum boys are making up things," said the governor. "I don't want to use the word that is normally used for things when people don't tell the truth."

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