Moapa Band of Paiutes sue over NV Energy plant - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU


Moapa Band of Paiutes sue over NV Energy plant

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The Moapa Band of Paiutes has sued NV Energy, claiming the nearby Reid Gardner Generating Station has damaged their property and threatened their health. (FOX5) The Moapa Band of Paiutes has sued NV Energy, claiming the nearby Reid Gardner Generating Station has damaged their property and threatened their health. (FOX5)

A small community of native Americans is taking on Nevada's energy giant.

The Moapa Band of Paiutes claims their land north of Las Vegas has been contaminated over decades by their neighbor, a coal-fired power plant.

It is now suing NV Energy to get the utility to clean the land up.

NV Energy built the Reid Gardner Generating Station in 1965. It's within walking distance of the Moapa Paiute reservation. Over 20 years, the operation expanded from one facility to four, meaning more waste.

The Paiutes say they are suffering and have proof as to why.

The history of the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, on 70,000 acres of land an hour north of Las Vegas, dates back to 1875, a source of pride which they celebrate.

Housing in the area started to go up around 1960, five years before the plant began firing.

"We flourished out here, and we lived off the land. We didn't realize the impacts it would have from 1965, when they first built this plant, how it would affect our people," said tribal chairman William Anderson.

"Just think what we've taken for 50 years - and this is what makes me mad - nobody knows that, nobody can agree on the limits for all these toxins," tribal member Vickie Simmons said. "You may not see it in the air, but it is here."

"We have the right to breathe clean air. We have the right to live in a clean environment, and we shouldn't be pushed around by a corporation to say this is the way you're going to live now," Anderson said.

In August, the Paiutes, along with the Sierra Club, filed a civil lawsuit against NV Energy for violations of the Solid Waste Disposal Act, Water Pollution Control Act and the Clean Water Act.

Tribal members pointed out dense grey material in the earth which, they say, is coal ash that surrounds the plant as well as the entire reservation.

According to the lawsuit, 20 truckloads of coal waste is dumped each day in a 91-acre landfill and 20 million gallons of water is used each year to hose that ash down. The Paiutes say the water creates a slurry in the bottom of the landfill which, over time, has seeped into the groundwater.

The plant uses multiple ponds to store water. The lawsuit alleges monitoring wells next to those ponds have recorded levels of arsenic 140 times higher than federal drinking water standards allow.

Surita Hernandez has lived on the reservation all her life. She showed us the inhalers, nebulizers and medications her four children use.

Tribal members say that when a strong wind blows through the reservation, ash creates clouds. Hernandez keeps her children indoors on windy days but said their breathing problems are persistent.

"I'm really going to consider moving away because there's too much death and too much sickness here, and it's really demoralizing," Simmons said.

NV Energy is phasing Reid Gardner out. The plant is slated to close completely by 2017.

"It was a big weight off my shoulders to find out this coal, dust, ash, everything that was there is now going to be removed and now going to be gone," Anderson said.

What remains is remediation of the area.

Following repeated requests for interviews on the topic, NV Energy sent the following statement to FOX5:

"As a matter of company policy, we are not able to comment on pending litigation. However, our Reid Gardner Station is in full compliance with all state and federal laws."

NV Energy signed a remediation agreement with the state in 2008. Nevada's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is overseeing its implementation. The department said that so far, 49 sources of contamination have been discovered, but cleanup could take 10 years.

Coal ash has been show to contain arsenic, lead and mercury. However, it is currently not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and so NV Energy has no responsibility for it.

The EPA has introduced legislation to regulate coal ash.

The tribe said any money obtained via the lawsuit would go to the community, especially health care.

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