LAS VEGAS (CN) – Nevada’s biggest utility company will pay the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians $4.3 million and close a power plant that is making tribal members sick from coal ash.
The Moapa, co-plaintiff Sierra Club and defendants Nevada Power dba NV Energy and the California Department of Water Resources on Tuesday filed a joint motion to approve the settlement and dismiss with prejudice a Clean Water Act complaint.
NV Energy supplies electricity to about half of Nevada’s 2.8 million residents, including those in Las Vegas Valley.
The Moapa River Indian Reservation is along the Moapa River about 45 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Nevada Power’s Reid Gardner power plant is next to the reservation.
Coal ash dust frequently blows across the reservation, home to about 200 Moapa.
“Coal is the dirtiest energy source – laced with mercury, arsenic, lead and other toxics. As it’s burned it creates significant problems for our health. These contaminants billow out of smokestacks right next to Moapa Paiute tribal lands. Toxic dust called coal ash picks up from the landfills and slag ponds of the coal-fired Reid Gardner Power Station and heads toward the reservation like a sandstorm,” the tribe says on its website, which includes a video, ” An Ill Wind: The Secret Threat of Coal Ash.”
The tribe blames the coal ash, in part, for high rates of heart, lung and thyroid disease.
“I live the closest to the ponds and the blowing dust, and I get all of it. Every time it blows, I get sick from the air that is being blown towards us,” former tribal Chairman Calvin Myers says in the video.
The proposed settlement requires Nevada Power to pay $4.3 million to the tribe and close the Reid Gardner plant by Dec. 31, 2017.
The $4.3 million would fund projects to “mitigate the harm and risk associated with contamination of the Reid Gardner site,” according to the proposed settlement.
One such project will be a $1.5 million wellness center with a gym, day facilities for seniors and nutrition centers. Another $2 million would be used to mitigate water problems.
About $400,000 would pay for monitoring environmental cleanup of the Reid Gardner site, and another $300,000 would pay for air quality monitoring equipment and technical assistance.
The settlement also gives the tribe the opportunity to buy 500 acre feet of water rights associated with the Reid Gardner plant, subject to Nevada Water Authority approval.
The tribe and Sierra Club also will submit a claim for attorney’s fees and legal costs, the amount of which Nevada Power can contest.
The Reid Gardner plant opened in the 1960s and by the 1980s had four coal-fueled power stations producing electricity, mostly for Las Vegas Valley in the summer.
Nevada Power already has closed three of Reid Gardner’s four coal-fueled generation plants and switched to renewable energy. The power plant next to the Moapa River Indian Reservation will be the last to go.
Critics said the plant is one of the nation’s dirtiest. Since 1991 state and federal courts have fined its operators more than $6.8 million. The Department of Justice in 2007 demanded $85 million in improvements to reduce pollution after the Environmental Protection Agency reported 56 violations of federal air-pollution laws.
Nevada Power officials were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
The Moapa were granted a 2 million acre reservation in 1874, but two years later Congress cut it down to 1,000 acres-a reduction of 99.95 percent. President Jimmy Carter gave back 72,000 acres in 1980.
The Moapa/Paiute practiced irrigation agriculture before contact, when water still flowed in Nevada. They speak a language that anthropologists believe has elements of Uto-Aztecan and Shoshone. “Pa” means water in Shoshone.
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