NV Energy, tribe settle suit over coal-fired power plant

NV Energy will pay a Southern Nevada Indian tribe $4.3 million to settle a 2013 lawsuit over pollution from the coal-burning Reid Gardner power plant 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The Moapa Band of Paiutes plan to use the money to fund a wellness center and install air pollution monitors, according to tribal chairman Darren Daboda.

The Reid Gardner Generating Station has operated at the edge of the Moapa River Reservation for about 50 years, and tribal members living in the shadow of its smokestacks have long blamed pollution from the plant for illnesses and deaths.

In its federal lawsuit, the tribe and the Sierra Club had called on NV Energy to safely remove a coal ash waste dump next to the power plant, which is in the process of being decommissioned.

The utility shut down three of the four generating units at Reid Gardner in December, and it plans to shutter the plant entirely in 2017 as part of a statewide move away from coal.

Daboda said he has definitely noticed a difference since the plant scaled back its operation late last year. He said the air over the reservation smells better and “the fly ash has gone down.”

In addition to the money, NV Energy agreed to share information with the tribe and the Sierra Club about ongoing environmental investigation and clean up.

Both the tribe and the environmental group had sued before over pollution concerns from Reid Gardner, but the 2013 suit marked the first action against NV Energy directly.

The lawsuit accused the utility of violating the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Clean Water Act, and it called for the proper removal and disposal of all toxic soils, sludge, coal dust and contaminated groundwater. It also sought to require NV Energy to clean up any pollution of the nearby Muddy River.

The settlement doesn’t require NV Energy to do any of those things. Some of the items are mandated separately by the federal government.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, the utility said it is pleased with the settlement, which “signals the start of a new relationship going forward.”

“The agreement represents extensive discussions between all parties to resolve historic differences and reach a mutually acceptable resolution of long-standing issues,” the statement said. “This settlement agreement is yet another step in the company’s ongoing efforts to decommission the Reid Gardner plant and remediate any environmental conditions on the site.”

Sen. Harry Reid, a vocal critic of the coal-burning plant, said no amount of money would make up for the damage done, but the settlement should “provide relief and help make the tribe’s home healthier and safer.”

“For years the band has suffered the consequences of breathing dangerous dirty air from the Reid Gardner coal plant and this settlement is a step forward,” Reid said Thursday in a written statement. “The Moapa Band of Paiutes and all Nevadans deserve a clean, healthy environment to raise their families in and pass on to their children.”

The Moapa Band of Paiutes has about 300 members, roughly half of whom live on the 73,000-acre reservation along the Muddy River and Interstate 15 in northern Clark County.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Find him on Twitter: @RefriedBrean.

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