The Problem of Clean Air and the Weakening of the Role of
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Jurisdiction of the
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA):
As mentioned elsewhere among these “talking points,” and repeated here for clarity and emphasis, if a plant were to be built outside the Basin, EPA guidelines would have to be met. This could be “difficult” as the Reno/Tahoe Biomass Supply and Demand Study makes clear. Biomass power plants do pollute and the air outside the Basin is already dirty. http://www.sedcorp.biz/files/Biomass%20Supply%20and%20Demand%20Study%20Jan%2008%20(TAD).pdf
This is not, however, the case inside the Tahoe Basin. Not only is the air cleaner but the Basin is governed by TRPA, a federal agency that has greater authority than a state or a county. However, given the peculiar jurisdiction of TRPA, EPA would have to be “invited” by TRPA to participate in any environmental impact study regarding a plant. While it is mandatory outside the Basin, it is optional and at the discretion of TRPA inside the Basin. The reader can see how this would be attractive to Placer County from a permitting standpoint.
Therefore, if Placer County, while supposedly subordinate to TRPA’s federal authority, has more political power than TRPA, then it can practically dictate to TRPA what shall or shall not happen in its region of the Tahoe Basin. The problem is that there are dual jurisdictions at work here. And, sadly, for economic reasons, the power and authority of TRPA has greatly eroded over time to a level where the four counties and the City of South Lake Tahoe sitting on TRPA’s board exert undue influence. Remember, the counties are charged with the responsibility to enforce many of TRPA determinations. That gives the counties a great deal of leverage. As a consequence, we do not anticipate EPA involvement at a level that one would find outside the Basin, if at all. While TRPA is responsible for the impact study and its oversight, the contractual agreement between TRPA and Placer is that Placer will pay TRPA from its DOE grants for the study. They are in tandem with the proposal with TRPA on paper in charge but Placer is actually in control.
Again, this matter of dual jurisdictions, county versus TRPA, reflects the dysfunctional operation of agencies charged with governance in and of the Basin. TRPA is underfunded and collects 50% of its revenues from fees associated with development and related activities. This automatically puts them in a conflict of interest with their mission to protect the Basin from runaway development often pushed and sponsored by counties wanting tax revenue and elected officials wanting campaign contributions from developers. Developers who want profits from developing Tahoe can make major contributions to candidates for the Boards of Supervisors in each county in the Basin and the City of South Lake Tahoe. And, they can then press TRPA (through the voting members of TRPA Governing Board which they appoint) to acquiesce to poorly planned but very profitable developments. This generates revenue for both the counties and TRPA. For TRPA to be able to function in the manner intended and protect the Basin, it needs additional state and/or federal funding to free it from developers and counties.