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What Now?

Making unpredictable predictions about what a Trump administration means for Tahoe
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Resources for Navigating Immigration

Assistance with navigating immigration programs remains available at the Family Resource Center of Truckee through its Mediation and Legal Assistance Program; however, their capacity is limited. Other organizations providing immigration support are Tu Casa Latina (Reno), Catholic Charities (Reno), and Sacramento Food Bank. Links to them are available at truckeefrc.org/classes-programs-events/mediation-legal-assistance/.

The immediate surprise of Donald Trump’s election as the next U.S. president is fading with the fall season, and in its place a whole new slew of questions is being asked. No matter what side of the ballot your vote fell on last November, one of your questions is most likely: “So, what does this mean for me?” Trump’s supporters wonder if he’ll keep the promises that propped up his campaign, and those who voted the other way wonder if he really will hit the political reset button.

We simply wondered, “What does this mean for Tahoe?”, and were met with, “Hard to tell.” Predicting Trump’s first moves is about as useful as predicting what the weather will be like when he takes office on Jan. 20. He has run a campaign based around unpredictability. To narrow the focus we chose three topics — the environment, immigration, and healthcare — that have particular relevance to Tahoe, and could be significantly affected with the power contained in the presidential office.

No, Donald, Climate Change Is Not A “Hoax”

At the Lake Tahoe Summit this past August, President Barack Obama addressed a mammoth crowd with the words, “That’s why we’re here: To protect this pristine place. To keep these waters crystal clear. To keep the air as pure as the heavens. To keep alive Tahoe’s spirit. And to keep faith with this truth — that the challenges of conservation and combating climate change are connected, they’re linked.”

On Jan. 20 a new president will be stepping into a pivotal role in the environmental movement’s story, but not as its newest protagonist. Trump’s rhetoric throughout his campaign has not only run in contrast to many of the last administration’s efforts to combat climate change and increase conservation, but in many cases he has pledged to undo many of those efforts, such as the Clean Power Plan and participation in the Paris Agreement.

So what does that mean for Lake Tahoe, where many who personally listened to one president passionately recite climate science will watch the inauguration of a climate change denier five months later? Well, many are gearing up for an uphill battle.

“The result of the election is most likely going to be that the Trump administration is going to go after some pretty seminal pieces of climate legislation,” said Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council, a nonprofit organization devoted to sustainable business practices and solutions, adding, “Everyone has this sense that there is a perceived threat to the environment out there.”

Trump released a plan in October detailing his first 100 days in office. A few of these top priority goals included approving the Keystone XL pipeline, canceling “billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs,” and lifting restrictions on shale, oil, natural gas, and clean coal. He has also picked climate change denier Myron Ebell to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s transition.

“There’s an awful lot of uncertainty, but from an environmental perspective, it is a little scary,” said Andy Rost, Associate Professor of Science and Technology at Sierra Nevada College. “In absence of a definitive plan on environmental policy it’s possible that [Trump] would simply defer to people in the party who would be more than happy to lift environmental regulations.”

Trump’s presidency does not bode well for a progressive climate change policy, and certainly does not bode well for Tahoe, which is just as vulnerable as the rest of the world to rising temperatures. The effects of a changing climate have already been felt in Lake Tahoe, and are extensively monitored by the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC), based at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village.

The yearly State of the Lake Report by TERC recently found that 2015 produced average precipitation, but with only 6 percent of it falling as snow, the lowest amount ever recorded. The average nighttime low temperature has also risen from 28 degrees historically to 33.5 degrees in 2015, or above the freezing point.

This has a significant effect on our snowpack, which in turn affects our local tourism economy throughout the year, according to TERC Education and Outreach Director Heather Segale. Not only does a diminished snowpack lead to less user days on the ski hill, but it also creates dryer forest environments and increases tree mortality, which leads to more intense fires and smoky summers.

Some of the greatest local consequences of the last election will be felt at the congressional level even before Donald Trump takes office. According to Steve Teshara, principal of Sustainable Community Advocates, Tahoe’s voice might be severely diminished in congress following the retirement of two prominent senators.

 “We will no longer have Senator [Harry] Reid, and we will no longer have Senator [Barbara] Boxer, who’ve been two very active champions for Tahoe legislation, and I think we’ve been successful in making sure that Tahoe receives bipartisan support,” said Teshara. “But it’s hard to substitute someone [Reid] who was the senate majority leader, the senate minority leader, and Senator Boxer, who was the chair and ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.”

Both Reid and Boxer were influential figures at the Lake Tahoe Summit — Reid convened the original summit 20 years ago — and have been pivotal in pushing the $415 million Lake Tahoe Restoration Act (LTRA 2015 S.1724) through congress. The LTRA is currently included in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a larger bill with bipartisan support that is slated for a vote through the House of Representatives at the time of this writing.

According to Teshara, the WRDA is expected to pass through the house with an overwhelming majority, and in the event it does, to be brought reliably to the floor of the senate the very next day. If the WRDA fails, the LTRA fails alongside it, and the whole process starts again with the next session of congress, only without the vital support of Reid and Boxer. With the 114th session of congress in its final month, the clock is ticking.

If the WRDA and LTRA pass this week, then they will be sent to the president for approval and the process to secure actual appropriations can begin. The language of the LTRA, published and finalized on Dec. 5, allows for the following breakdown of funds:

• $150 million for wildfire prevention, including fuel reduction projects and infrastructure.

• $80 million for the Environmental Improvement Program, which includes new bike trails, creek restoration, and fire treatment.

• $45 million to combat invasive species like the quagga mussel and Asian clam.

• $113 million in stormwater projects to help with runoff and erosion.

• $20 million to help recover the Lahontan cutthroat trout.

Deferred Dreams

With Trump’s hardline stance on immigration during his campaign, some of the people most concerned about his presidency are those who have their home country to lose. In addition to building “the wall that Mexico will pay for,” and tripling the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, Trump called for the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a 2012 Obama order that granted relief from deportation as well as a renewable two-year work permit to undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children. To date, more than 740,000 people have been approved for DACA status. The uncertain future of DACA has left immigrants and immigration advocates scrambling for answers.

In the North Tahoe/Truckee region, the Latino community is significant in number and impact. Consider that the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s student population is approximately 40 percent Latino, and while hard employment numbers are difficult to pin down, a visit to any construction site or restaurant kitchen reflects their importance to the workforce. How many of these community members are illegal is unclear.

“People can be afraid to make themselves known if they are unsure about what might happen to them if they do. We don’t have really firm numbers on how many undocumented workers are in Truckee, for example,” said Teresa Crimmens, executive director of the Family Resource Center of Truckee. “With that said, I know … they are a significant part of our local workforce.”

According to Crimmens, the Family Resource Center has processed about 10 successful DACA applications within the last year or so. But after talks with the National Immigration Law Center, the FRC recommends that potential first-time applicants for DACA do not apply for the program at this time. Renewals within the next 150 days could be advantageous, but should be looked at closely.

For those who have been considering applying for DACA status, Crimmens emphasizes the importance of undergoing screening for other immigration options. According to a recent study by the Journal of Migration and Human Security, 14.3 percent of DACA recipients are eligible for another form of immigration relief.

On Aug. 31 of this year, Trump delivered a speech in Phoenix, Arizona, where he said, “For those here illegally today who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only: To return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else […]” In the speech, the president-elect also laid out a 10-point plan on immigration policy. However, many say the loss of immigrant labor could be devastating for the Tahoe area.

“It’s really, really clear that immigrant labor is very important to the Lake Tahoe Basin and to the Sierra Nevada. We might not be as ethnically diverse as the rest of the state, but they are a very important part of both our workforce and our communities, and their constitutional rights and their rights as workers need to be supported and protected,” Sierra Business Council president Steve Frisch said. “I think business needs to stand up for that. How ironic would it be if business, who is the primary driver of immigration because they hire people, didn’t stand with immigrant labor and workers?”

Healthcare Hesitation

Trump says he promotes a health care reform plan based on “free market principles.” In his most well-known promise, he has made clear plans to repeal and replace Obamacare, and allow individuals to use Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), citing soaring premiums and insurance companies fleeing the exchanges. That leaves the future uncertain for those who are currently covered under the program, but advocates indicate changes won’t happen overnight.

“Due to the fact that the Affordable Care Act was legislated through Congress, even if there were a move to repeal it, it would take at least several weeks. It’s not something that can be done by executive order and therefore can’t be done on the first day of the new administration taking office,” Crimmens said. “So the recommendation there is simply if you have health insurance and you need healthcare, do it now.”

In addition to repealing the ACA, Trump has said he “plans to reduce barriers to the interstate sale of health insurance, institute a full tax deduction for insurance premium payments for individuals, make Health Saving Accounts inheritable, require price transparency, block-grant Medicaid to the states, and allow for more overseas drug providers through lowered regulatory barriers,” according to ballotpedia.org. Trump has also said that enforcing immigration laws could reduce healthcare costs. But as with much in the new administration, the future is unclear.

“I think it’s really early. Everything is very preliminary. No one person has all the power to unilaterally make all the changes we’ve been hearing about,” said Harry Weis, chief executive officer for Tahoe Forest Health System.” We don’t know if change will be helpful or harmful.”

Weis said he plans to keep an eye on potential Medicaid and Medicare cuts, but his real hope is that the administration addresses structural issues in how healthcare is delivered throughout the country. According to him, of the estimated $3.6 trillion spent on healthcare in the U.S. this year, a third never actually touches the healthcare provider, but instead goes to administration and profit retainage. He bemoans the fact that nationally there are roughly 1,000 bureaucratic agencies or third-party payers choking the healthcare system.

“I’m looking for thoughtful insight into the core structural issues of the healthcare system,” Weis said. “I’m hoping there can be a constructive conversation on the structure, so we can continue to provide quality healthcare at a much lower cost.”  
 

 
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November 9, 2017