Native Americans in the Las Vegas valley are paying the environmental and health costs of coal without getting any of the economic benefit
by Zachary Rybarczyk
For almost 50 years, the Moapa Piaute Band has been living near one of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation, getting exposed to dangerous levels of noxious gases, coal ash, and water pollution. However, they haven’t seen the economic benefits they were promised – or any of the electricity.
In the 60’s, when the project developer needed support from the local Piautes to build the Reid Gardner power plant, a contract was drafted promising to hire members of the tribe. But today, no Piautes are employed at the plant, even while asthma rates, thyroid problems and cancer rates increase, according to the tribe.
A local television station, KLAS recently investigated the dispute:
The agreement only obligates the company to “try” to find spots for Paiutes. Some have worked at the plant over the years, yet today, no one from the reservation is employed by NV Energy.
“We apply for a lot of jobs down there but they deny us, and all that. Too high class to hire a bunch of Indians, you know,” said Paiute elder Elliot Bushead. “They don’t hire no Indians.”
Now, the plant owner NV Energy wants to extend the life of the aging facility. And the Moapa Piutes are partnering with environmental organizations to prevent the company from continuing operation, saying that the tribe is a victim of “environmental racism.”
“I think it is absolutely environmental racism. Communities of color are always targeted for these kinds of projects,” said Vinny Spotleson with the Sierra Club. “There’s a reason it’s not in Summerlin or Green Valley and it’s in Moapa.”
“It’s an old dinosaur. Coal is dirty, it’s always going to be dirty. We need to do things better here in southern Nevada,” said Jane Feldman with the Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club says that the Reid Garnder plant is the perfect illustration of the true cost of coal – particularly for economically distressed communities that often bear the burden of hosting dirty energy facilities.
In 2008, the Bureau of Land Management ordered Reid Gardner to install over $90 million in pollution controls in order to reduce dangerous emissions. However, these improvements have not controlled the stench of evaporation ponds and blowing coal ash that still plague the Reservation.
The plant’s impact on the local water supply is another major issue. The Reid Gardner facility sucks up 3 billion gallons of water annually, and seven of the 10 water quality monitoring wells have found “significant levels for heavy metals [and] various toxic substances.”
Watch the video below to see how this struggle is unfolding:
Stephen Lacey contributed to this story.