Obama Stresses Conservation Measures in Lake Tahoe Ahead of G-20

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President Barack Obama speaks near Lake Tahoe in Stateline, Nevada, on Aug. 31, 2016.

Photographer: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
  • White House announces steps to curb wildfires in Nevada
  • Obama to urge China to ratify Paris climate deal during summit

President Barack Obama announced new federal conservation measures Wednesday at Lake Tahoe as he seeks to emphasize global efforts to fight climate change ahead of the Group of 20 summit in China.

The White House said the federal government would spend $29.5 million to help prevent wildfires near the lake, along the border of California and Nevada, ramp up efforts to recruit private philanthropic donations, and provide $29 million in funding for geothermal research.

“Places like this nurture and restore the soul, and we want to make sure that’s there for our kids too,” Obama said while speaking at the 20th annual Lake Tahoe summit in Nevada. He said conservation efforts “free more of our communities and plant and animal species from wildfires, droughts, and displacement.”

The G-20 meeting in Hangzhou on Sept. 4-5 will offer Obama a chance to cement his environmental legacy, particularly on climate change. He has made curbing carbon emissions linked to global warming a top priority of his second term, championing the international climate accord reached last year in Paris, issuing executive actions targeting pollution, and expanding federally protected lands and oceans.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada hosted the event, which also included appearances from fellow Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California -- as well as a musical appearance by rock group The Killers.

After the Nevada event, Obama will travel to Hawaii, where he’s scheduled to address the heads of state of a number of Pacific islands at a conference Wednesday night in Honolulu. Obama has highlighted the threat that rising oceans pose to low-lying islands, arguing that communities being displaced by flooding and severe weather are canaries in a coal mine.

“The president will be discussing the role that remote islands play in the climate context, but also the importance of the intersection between conservation and climate change as we face an increasingly severe threat of climate change in these parts of the world,” Brian Deese, a senior adviser to the president, told reporters on Monday.

While in Honolulu, Obama will formally expand a marine national monument in the waters near Hawaii to contain 582,578 square miles -- an area roughly the size of Texas, California, and Montana combined. That Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument ranks as the largest ecologically protected area on the planet.

The president will get a firsthand view of the protected areas on Thursday when he tours Midway Atoll, a small coral island in the western reaches of the monument.

Midway, best known as the site of a decisive naval battle during World War II, is now home to almost three million birds, including the world’s largest population of albatrosses, Bonin petrels and endangered Laysan ducks, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles and spinner dolphins can be spotted in the Midway lagoon, one of the most remote coral atolls on earth.

From Hawaii, Obama will head to China, where he’ll discuss formally ratifying the Paris climate agreement with President Xi Jinping. The leaders are also expected to talk about international efforts to cap airline emissions and reduce the production of ozone-depleting refrigerants.

The president’s tour is likely to draw criticism from Republicans, who have argued that the president’s efforts to curb climate change will hurt American businesses. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, said in a tweet he believes “global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He has vowed to cancel and renegotiate the Paris climate deal.

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