Nevada's environmental questions are perennials


The wildflowers splashed yellow and crimson along the Cold Creek Road. Flecks of bright color highlighted the joshua-covered foothills.

There was a chill in the April air, but the signs of spring were undeniable. One look around provided an ideal reminder of delicate balance between the environment and development in Nevada. In one direction, the Spring Mountains were snow-capped and pine-covered. Looking down valley: two state penitentiaries and, in the far distance, a military test range.

I think of such scenes whenever the subject of Earth Day is raised around these parts. You remember Earth Day, right?

It’s that one day a year we set aside to read alarming stories about the precarious promontory on which our environment is perched. Stories on endangered rivers, the Colorado not least, flow, well, like rivers in the press. Tragic tales of diminished wildlife and scarred natural beauty are commonplace. We are reminded about the increasingly desperate need to tend to our warming planet.

School kids are spotted on field trips to pick up trash, and service organizations take to roadside across the land to collect bags full of empty beer cans and pop bottles.

All rumors to the contrary, Earth Day exists in Nevada, too. The Silver State, known for the hedonistic excesses of its casino operations and the environmental gluttony of its open-pit mining industry, has a fair army of residents who care a great deal about this place. Some are green-energy advocates with liberal politics. A surprising number of others are true environmental conservatives, folks with deep beliefs about being shepherds of the land. Each in his own way wants to see the best of Nevada preserved for future generations.

Just ahead of Earth Day, an eclectic group of Southern Nevada faith leaders and local environmental and health advocates joined the Moapa Band of Paiutes Saturday on a 16-mile walk that culminated in a rally to call for the closure of the coal-fired Reid Gardner power plant in Moapa. For years, they have complained that pollution from the power plant has caused them a variety of medical maladies. NV Energy operates the venerable power plant and has plans to phase it out of service in as few as four years. Obviously, they aren’t interested in waiting another day to clear the air on their reservation.

But they also turned out to pump up support for an approved 350-megawatt solar energy project on the Moapa Paiute Reservation. When the facility is competed, by contract it will send energy to Los Angeles and not into the electricity grid controlled by NV Energy.

The use of renewable energy is as much a political question as it is an environmental one. Although it often gets reduced to a business brief in the Nevada press, the politics of the rapid evolution of the use of renewable energy is one of the biggest stories in the state.

Moapa’s far from the only place Nevadans are concerned about their environment. At Lake Tahoe, the focus is on water quality and the debilitating influence of the regular crush of automobile traffic the area receives. In the mining districts of Elko and Eureka counties, some environmentalists are concerned about the potential damage done to the groundwater by large-scale mines.

And on it goes. From quagga mussels in Lake Mead and trapping in the Spring Mountains to the threat of a massive water transfer in White Pine County and our love-hate relationship with the state’s wild horses, Nevada has no shortage of environmental questions.

It takes far more than one day a year to answer them.