Moapa vs. NV Energy or David vs. Goliath

For years, white ash has been blowing across the desert from the Reid Gardner Power Plant right into the homes on the Moapa Paiute Indian Reservation.

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For years, white ash has been blowing across the desert from the Reid Gardner Power Plant right into the homes on the Moapa Paiute Indian Reservation. The Paiutes claim that this ash—the waste from the power plant—is making them sick. The power plant claims that the Paiutes are wrong. This week, a 3-part investigative series from KSNV, the NBC station in Las Vegas, examines the situation in Moapa from three sides. The Paiutes and the power plant each get their say—as does science.

"We have been trying for so many years to get coverage of this situation, so it’s very exciting to see people interested and to see our tribe stepping forward," said Vickie Simmons, a resident on the reservation who was featured in the TV report.

In the part one, members of the Moapa Paiute tribe tell their story of bad air and illness. Several of the people interviewed are people I met when I made a short film about the situation in Moapa. Vickie Simmons takes the reporting team to a grave yard and Vernon Lee tells the reporters about his concerns.

In part two, the power plant says the Paiutes are fine. Power plant employees take the TV station inside the coal ash area and the reporter finds the safety monitoring to be lackluster. Several of the employees even seem unsure about whether or not the ash might be making the Paiutes sick. The power plant tries to control the story the reporters are trying to tell but thankfully the reporters do a great job of objectively reporting.

In the important third part, the TV station takes coal ash collected at Reid Gardner to be studied at a chemisty lab. The results are disturbing: toxic materials such as chromium and arsenic are much higher than in the tests by the power plant. The chemist says the material is toxic and needs to be cleaned up. The people of Moapa have long believed that the toxic air from coal ash has led to serious health affects and shorter lifespans.

"Seeing this TV report show the high levels of toxic materials in the ash made me angry and happy," said Simmons. "I’m angry that the numbers were so high and happy that new tests are starting to show just how toxic this area is."

The NBC news report mentions another development. In the next few weeks, the Nevada EPA will decide about new regulations that could help clean up some of the air pollution around Moapa. However, the NBC report doesn’t mention that Moapa is also involved in a national fight against toxic coal ash. Earthjustice is representing Moapa and other community groups in courts in Washington, D.C. Our lawsuit seeks to force the U.S. EPA to complete its rulemaking process and finalize public health safeguards against toxic coal ash. This is the same coal ash shown to be extremely toxic in the NBC report. An EPA rule would help to clean up the air and water in Moapa and other communities across the country.

Hopefully, decision makers in Nevada and beyond are paying attention to investigative reports like this. The facts are deeply troubling and this poisonous pollution needs to be regulated.

Chris Jordan-Bloch is a photographer and filmmaker for Earthjustice. He uses videos, photos, audio and words to tell the stories of Earthjustice and the people and places we fight to protect.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.