As one of the youngest people to serve as tribal chairman for the Moapa Band of Paiutes, William Milton Anderson led the fight to close a coal-burning power plant next to his reservation and replace it with the first utility-scale solar power facility built on tribal land in the United States.
Anderson died unexpectedly Sunday at his home on the Moapa River Indian Reservation, 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas. He was 44.
“He was a born leader,” said his cousin, Eric Lee, who served on the council with Anderson. “It’s in his blood.”
Anderson was born in Las Vegas but lived his whole life on the reservation along the Muddy River, where he put his artistic talents to work designing T-shirts he sold at powwows and other events.
He was 26 when he first became chairman of the tribal council in 2000, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and several uncles who also served on the council.
After his first term in office, Anderson briefly left politics to study graphic arts before being elected to the council and named chairman again in 2011. That is when he took a leadership role in the tribe’s efforts to shut down NV Energy’s Reid Gardner Generating Station, a coal-fired plant that had operated at the edge of the reservation since the 1960s.
Anderson partnered with the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center to file a series of lawsuits over the plant. In April 2012, he led a three-day, 50-mile march from Reid Gardner to the federal building in downtown Las Vegas to call for the plant’s closure.
Under political pressure, NV Energy switched off three of the four generating units at Reid Gardner in 2014 and shuttered the plant for good in 2017, years early than originally planned.
At the same time, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, under Anderson’s leadership, was negotiating an agreement with First Solar and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to build a 250-megawatt solar power plant on the reservation. That photovoltaic array went online in March 2017, and a 100-megawatt expansion is in the works.
Lee said the deal became a blueprint for other tribes looking to leverage their land for solar energy development.
Anderson stayed active after he left the council, lobbying for the creation of Gold Butte National Monument on a 300,000-acre swath of northeastern Clark County that was once part of the Moapa River Indian Reservation.
Lee said his cousin was more like a little brother to him but also someone he looked up to. He was a funny, personable guy, but “he meant business when it came to politics,” Lee said.
When they served on the council together, Anderson used to tell him, “You’re not here for you, you’re here for us.”
“He influenced me a lot,” Lee added.
Anderson battled health problems for years stemming from a back injury. He was fighting a bad cold just before he died, but his cause of death is not yet known, Lee said.
Anderson is survived by his mother, Shirley Anderson, sisters Launa Lane, Monica Surrett, Docian Molden and Betty Henry, and his 8-year-old son, Logan Anderson of Moapa.
He was preceded in death by his father, Milton.
Services will be held Friday at the Moapa Tribal Administrative Building in Moapa, with a viewing at 1 p.m. and the funeral at 2 p.m., followed by a dinner and traditional singing.