Sierra Club lawsuit targets BLM for landfill expansion

The Sierra Club and the Moapa Band of Paiutes have teamed up in a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management for allowing NV Energy to expand a landfill for coal-ash waste onto public land at the company’s Reid Gardner power plant, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The coal-fired power station currently operates a landfill at the site near the tribe’s reservation. The BLM granted a right-of-way that provides the company with 240 acres of adjacent public land to expand the landfill and would allow it to build nine evaporation ponds on 315 acres of public land on a nearby mesa.

The 30-page lawsuit filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas claims the BLM failed to prepare a formal environmental impact statement “despite significant environmental impacts,” and also failed to “provide adequate information necessary for public involvement” in its decision.

Ron Wenker, the state director for the BLM in Nevada, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar are named as defendants in the civil case, which seeks to ensure the planned expansion doesn’t spoil the Muddy River and critical environmental areas at Gold Butte.

“BLM failed to take a hard look at the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the right-of-way issued to NV Energy,” according to the lawsuit.

“BLM’s actions are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, in excess of statutory authority and limitations, short of statutory right, and not in accordance with the law,” the suit states, asking the court to void or suspend the right of way until the BLM complies with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

A BLM spokeswoman said the bureau had no immediate response but would wait for the outcome of the litigation. An NV Energy spokesman would not to comment on the specific claims in the lawsuit but said that the Sierra Club “is being rather premature in its rhetoric” about pending guidelines on the toxicity of coal ash.

The Southern Nevada Health District board approved a permit allowing NV Energy to expand the landfill Oct. 28.

Darren Daboda, chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Council, told the board that children from the tribal community of about 300 “are most vulnerable to these adverse health effects, and the same with our seniors and our elders. Sulfates and solids are absorbed into our bloodstream, through the skin, through the lungs and ingested through food. We have high blood pressure and associated illnesses as a tribal community as a result.”

In a statement, local Sierra Club “Beyond Coal” campaign organizer Vinny Spotleson said the BLM should not allow NV Energy “to further threaten the health of people living near this dirty and dangerous plant.”

“Coal ash is incredibly toxic and it is unsafe to expand this landfill and these ponds without appropriate safeguards,” Spotleson said.

NV Energy officials argued for the permit, saying the expansion would protect the Muddy River by moving the wastes farther away and would allow continued operation of the coal-fired Reid Gardner Generating Station, which provides electricity for 335,000 Nevada homes.

The existing landfill has only enough capacity left for 2½ years of plant operations. Under the company’s expansion, the landfill would have enough space to store more than 10 million cubic yards of coal-combustion wastes from more than 30 years of operation.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

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