The Moapa River Indian Reservation, tribal home of a band of Paiute Indians, sits about 30 miles north of Las Vegas—and about 300 yards from the coal ash landfills of the Reid Gardner Power Station. If the conditions are just wrong, coal ash picks up from Reid Gardner and moves across the desert like a sandstorm.
"When I'm up here I can see that coal ash blowing right at my house," said Vickie Simmons, as she stands on a hill in between the Reid Gardner Power Plant and her house on the Moapa River Reservation.
The Moapa Paiutes who live in the reservation are dealing with the affects of unregulated coal ash, the toxic waste left at the end of the coal burning process.
The Reid Gardner Power Plant is seen towering above houses on the Moapa River Reservation home of the Moapa Band of Paiutes.
"For me the reservation is a place of solitude," said Moapa Paiute Vernon Lee. "But right outside my house I've got a pollution spewing dinosaur that destroys much of the solitude that this place provides."
A cloud of highly toxic coal ash is seen blowing like a sandstorm straight at the homes on the Moapa River Reservation.
Although the ash is constantly blowing around the desert, conditions on certain days are such that the ash cloud becomes so bad that everyone has to run inside for fear of exposure.
The ash is laced with arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxic metals. The Paiute people on the reservation have above average cases of lung, heart and thyroid disease.
"I want to be outside; it makes me happy. I want what the Constitution of the United States says, that I have the right to happiness," said Moapa Paiute Calvin Myers. "Well right now, I don't have that. When the wind blows, I'm a prisoner. I go back to jail."
The coal ash ponds stretch across the desert from the Reid Gardner Power Plant to within a few hundred yards of the homes of Moapa Paiutes like Calvin Myers.
Currently NV Energy, owner of the Reid Gardner, plans to construct nine additional coal ash ponds as well as a vast expansion of its unlined coal ash landfill at the site. The Paiutes who live there are opposed to the expansion.
Former Moapa Paiute Tribal Chairman and Reid Gardner worker Vernon Lee stands behind his home of the Moapa River Reservation.
"I suffer from headaches, dizziness, nausea and memory loss, and many of my symptoms worsen on days when the coal ash is really blowing," Lee said. "But more than my own problems, I worry about the long-term affects that the ash is having on the land and our people."
The Moapa River runs through the reservation, then past the power plant and on into Lake Mead, which provides drinking water for more than two million people.
The Nevada Department of Environmental Protection found groundwater downstream from Reid Gardner to be at 71 times the federal maximum contaminant level for arsenic.
Coal ash is extremely high in arsenic and is known to leach into groundwater at sites where it is stored.
"I never had asthma until I moved here," said Moapa River Reservation resident Deanna Domingo. "Now I have to use an inhaler every day and my eight year old daughter just got her first inhaler."
Students sit in class during the Head Start program on the Moapa River Reservation.
"I worry about the children on our reservation," Deanna Domingo said. "The pollution has to have affects on them."
"I've had a sore throat for six months," said Eunice Ohte who has been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism.
There is a cluster of thyroid disease on the reservation, which many locals attribute to the pollution from the power plant.
The sun rises over the desert on the Moapa River Reservation.
"I was born before the plant, so I know just how pristine this place used to be," tribal elder Eunice Ohte said.
Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Chairman William Anderson works in his office on the reservation.
Anderson is currently leading the tribe through negotiations that will create two separate solar energy-generating facilities on the reservation. They will be the largest on a reservation in America.
"We can't just sit here and take it, so we've got to do something about it … to have a solar project and to say, hey, we're doing our part to show a new way forward," Anderson said.
Vickie Simmons works at the test station where the new Moapa Paiute solar plant will be.
"I'm the first green energy worker here and so I'm really proud," said Vickie Simmons. "I just feel like the Indians are here for a reason," she added. "And maybe that reason is to show another way forward."
Calvin Myers who has health problems from the coal ash from Reid Gardner goes for a hike on the Moapa River Reservation.
"There are things that could be done to regulate coal ash but companies say it's to expensive," said Myers. "Well, what value do you put on your life? What do you think I'm worth? Is my life worth nothing?"
Darkness settles over the Reid Gardner Power Plant.
For the past few years the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been debating how to regulate coal ash. Strong regulations would classify the substance under Subtitle C of the Coal Combustion Residuals and would treat coal ash as a hazardous waste.
A giant cloud of coal ash is seen blowing at the Moapa River Reservation.
Strong regulations on coal ash can help the people of the reservation and other people around America who are being polluted by the toxic substance.