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This weekend, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore — the team that made Bosnia and Haiti safe for democracy, fixed health care, ended crime, reinvented government, eradicated the threat to civilization posed by the Branch Davidians and brought you John Huang and Charlie Trie — are going to direct their considerable problem-solving skills at a new crisis: preserving the beauty of Lake Tahoe.

For me, living as I do less than two hours from what Mark Twain described as “the fairest sight the whole earth affords,” Tahoe has always been a respite from the insanity Washington, D.C., represents. I’ve never felt my life was in danger while visiting Tahoe, as I often do when visiting our nation’s capital. I go to the lake, not to the Potomac, to breathe clean air and take in the natural beauty. And I’ve never had my pocket picked in Tahoe, while Washington somehow manages to steal me blind even while I’m in the relative safety of my Northern California home.

But, perhaps from their vantage point 3,000 miles away, Clinton and Gore have a keener perspective on the traffic, safety and environmental problems of Lake Tahoe than I do. The time to act is now, they say. And the people to do it are those with the expertise and the track record. Who could argue that a summit meeting and photo op on the banks of the world’s largest alpine lake is not the logical next step?

“In the Tahoe Basin, keeping the lake and forests healthy is the key not only to maintaining a high quality of life, but to maintaining a prosperous economy as well,” explained Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

Clinton, Gore and Babbitt promise to unveil a model program to do just that.

One of the big problems in Lake Tahoe, the federal government tells us, is dead trees. The place is just littered with dead white pine and fir, choked by drought brought on, no doubt, by the ravages of global warming. Of course, allowing the overgrown forests to be pruned through selective logging would be out of the question because that would be a market-based solution that would create jobs, stimulate the economy, produce goods and services and require limited federal government involvement. Instead, the people who brought you the devastating wildfires at Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks propose federally supervised “controlled burns.”

“There’s a role for prescribed fire,” explained Babbitt. “In the right circumstances, a column of smoke in the sky is a signal of progress.”

Keep in mind, for 20 years or more, the environmental-government establishment in Tahoe has forbid the use of wood-burning stoves because they pollute the air. But, heck, forest fires? No problem. That’s progress.

Another element of the crisis is green water. At the southern end of the lake, the blue water has a green tinge to it. Naturally, people in Washington are losing sleep over this. They blame this hideous discoloration on everything that’s wrong with the modern world — vehicle emissions, golfers, unenlightened logging activity of the past and development that has destroyed surrounding “wetlands.”

So what’s the solution? Tighter restrictions on driving automobiles in San Francisco and nearby Sacramento, where most of the pollution is generated. No more golf courses near the lake, because the fertilizer leaches. And certainly no more tree-cutting or development. Absolutely not. No way.

Another big problem at Tahoe, Washington informs us, is traffic. I can tell you, as someone who likes to drive to Tahoe, that this can be a problem. What should be a two-hour ride can take up to four hours on a busy weekend. Getting around the lake itself in peak seasons can also be trying. But what’s the solution?

Guess. Believe me when I tell you the federal government is not planning to expand the highway leading to Tahoe to four lanes. The only solution Clinton and Gore have in mind is to make the lake less accessible to ordinary riff-raff like you and me. That’s the plan. National parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone have yearly quotas on visitors. Can we expect any less for a great natural resource like Lake Tahoe?

I guess it’s the federal government’s job to ensure that such a treasure is preserved for all time for the enjoyment of the wealthy elite. Hey, maybe Clinton and Gore should really protect Lake Tahoe from Americans and sell it to the Chinese.

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