MOAPA – After almost 50 years of smelling and even tasting the coal-fired power plant next door, members of the Moapa Band of Paiutes say it’s long past time to shut their neighbor down.
That was the overwhelming message delivered Thursday afternoon as the Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing at the tribe’s administration building near the Muddy River, about 50 miles north of Las Vegas.
Tribal members, some of them in tears, blamed pollution from the Reid Gardner Generating Station for a host of medical problems, including respiratory ailments, heart disease, headaches and strokes.
“It’s getting really scary on the res,” Paiute Vernon Lee said. “We’re dying at an alarming rate, much more than the average.”
Lalobi Miller stood at the podium and listed all of her immediate family members who have fallen ill.
“When we’re out in our yards when it winds, we can see that white sheet of dust coming through,” she said.
Darren Daboda grew up on the reservation and said he and his friends used to get nosebleeds when they would play basketball outside.
“Historically, we’ve had to suffer for 40-plus years,” Daboda said.
About 100 tribe members and environmentalists gathered for the hearing, which was held to gather input on an EPA proposal for new emissions controls at Reid Gardner.
If adopted, the proposed rule would allow NV Energy to install new nitrogen oxide burners at the plant instead of a far more expensive emissions technology known as selective catalytic reduction.
Critics want EPA to require the more costly controls, in large part because it could force NV Energy to shut down the plant rather than pay for the retrofit.
This was the first hearing of its kind to be held on the reservation, which takes in more than 70,000 acres and the homes of about half of the tribe’s roughly 300 members.
The three-hour meeting took place within sight of the power plant, which looms to the east of the tribe’s central offices.
Many in the audience Thursday wore stickers supplied by the Sierra Club that read, “My heart and lungs (heart) clean air.”
Reid Gardner employees also spoke, defending the plant and its environmental record. Plant director David Sharp called it “one of the lowest emitting plants and certainly one of the best plants in its age range.”
Several employees and contractors said they backed the EPA proposal, which will allow NV Energy to keep the power station open and its workers employed.
As Reid Gardner worker Wayne Baca put it, those people have children and families, too.
Yvette Chevalier isn’t a member of the tribe, but the 33-year resident of Las Vegas started work on the reservation as tribal administrator about three months ago.
Since then, she has experienced several health problems, including breathing ailments, after not needing a doctor’s care for five years, she said. She can’t imagine what is happening to the lungs of the people who have lived next to the plant their whole lives.
“I’m very sorry for the 100 people who may lose their jobs if this plant changes over to solar. Learn a new trade. Coal is archaic,” Chevalier said to a round of applause from the audience.
Two weeks ago, members of the Moapa Band of Paiutes and other tribes from Nevada, Arizona and Utah marched 50 miles from the reservation to downtown Las Vegas.
The three-day cultural healing walk, as it was called, ended on April 22 – Earth Day – in front of the federal courthouse, where about 100 people gathered to rally against the power plant.
In October, the tribe joined the Sierra Club in a lawsuit to block the expansion of a landfill for coal-ash waste at Reid Gardner, which opened in 1965 and supplies power to about 335,000 homes in the Las Vegas Valley.
Tribal members and environmentalists contend that blowing ash and polluted water from the landfill are already contaminating the environment and harming nearby residents.
The lawsuit targets the Southern Nevada Health District and its board of directors, which signed off last month on a final permit clearing NV Energy to expand.
Utility officials insist the expansion will include strict protective measures and will move existing waste ponds one mile away from the Muddy River and about two miles farther away from tribal residents.
The lawsuit is still pending.
The EPA has accepted most of a state plan to meet the regional haze requirement of the federal Clean Air Act, but the agency decided to take a closer look at Reid Gardner.
Regional haze is caused by fine particle pollution that obscures the view of scenery and objects at a distance.
NV Energy officials call EPA’s proposed rule a “win-win” for ratepayers and the environment because it will allow Reid Gardner to meet haze standards at about one-tenth the cost.
A second public hearing was slated to be held Thursday night in Overton.
The EPA will accept written comments on the proposed rule through June 4.
Comments should be sent to the EPA’s Thomas Webb by email at email@example.com; by fax to (415) 947-3579; or by mail to 75 Hawthorne St., US EPA (Air-2), San Francisco CA 94105.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350.