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Tribe, environmentalists sue NV Energy over coal plant waste

Tribal members and environmentalists filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to force NV Energy to clean up the site of a coal-fired power plant the utility plans to shut down by 2017.

The Moapa Band of Paiutes and the Sierra Club are calling for the safe removal of a coal ash waste dump next to the Reid Gardner Generating Station, which has operated at the edge of tribal land for almost 50 years.

Both groups have sued before over pollution concerns from the plant, but this marks the first lawsuit filed against NV Energy directly.

The action filed in U.S. District Court calls on the utility to clean up air and water pollution caused by coal ash blowing off the waste dump.

NV Energy plans to retire three of the four units at Reid Gardner next year and shutter the plant entirely by 2017, six years earlier than previously scheduled, as part of a statewide move away from coal.

Tribal members living in the shadow of Reid Gardner’s smokestacks have long blamed pollution from the plant for illnesses and deaths on their 73,000-acre reservation.

No health studies have definitively linked medical problems among the tribe’s roughly 300 members to the power plant next door, but Paiute officials have said research is underway.

Critics of the plant have hailed the pending closure but remain worried about what could be left behind at the site.

“Paiute families have waited long enough for remediation,” said Jane Feldman from the Sierra Club in Nevada. “We’re looking for the court to help come up with a strong, enforceable action plan.”

In a prepared statement issued Thursday, tribal leader Vickie Simmons said: “We must ensure that the toxic waste from the power plant is fully cleaned up. The safety of our community and the future of our children depend on it.”

The lawsuit claims the plant has violated the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act, and it calls for the proper removal and disposal of all toxic soils, sludge, coal dust and contaminated groundwater. It also seeks to require NV Energy to clean up any pollution of the nearby Muddy River.

The suit also names the California Department of Water Resources, which has an ownership stake in the power plant.

The tribe and the Sierra Club previously teamed up on separate suits against the Bureau of Land Management and Southern Nevada Health District for signing off on plans by NV Energy to expand the coal ash dump at Reid Gardner.

NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht said it is company policy not to comment on pending litigation, but she noted that “our Reid Gardner Generating Station is in full compliance with all state and federal laws.”

NV Energy President and CEO Michael Yackira is scheduled to speak at the sixth annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

The event is organized by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who once publicly referred to Reid Gardner as a “dirty relic” and called for it to be closed.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.

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