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In Memoriam: William Anderson

The former Moapa Band of Paiutes tribal chairman, who helped close down a coal plant that was killing people on his reservation, died Sunday at age 44.

William Anderson

William Anderson

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Former Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Chairman William Milton Anderson passed away Jan. 28 in his home at the age of 44. William was an environmental hero and a great Earthjustice ally.

As the youngest chairman in tribe history, he helped close down a coal plant that was killing people on his reservation. While shutting down coal, he organized the building of the first, large-scale solar farm on an Indian reservation. He was a client on a case that secured the first-ever national regulations on coal ash, America’s largest toxic waste stream, which impacted his people. In his final days he worked to protect thousands of Paiute artifacts and historical sites by getting southeast Nevada’s Gold Butte declared a national monument.

I first met William when he was in the middle of the fight against the power plant. Earthjustice’s Lisa Evans was working with William to help secure national regulations on coal ash, but William and others wanted the story of their local fight to be told. I asked William if I could help, and soon I had the honor of being in Moapa to make a film with the tribe.

From left to right, Lisa Evans, William Anderson, and Chris Jordan-Bloch at an Earthjustice meeting in Washington, D.C.
From left to right, Lisa Evans, William Anderson, and Chris Jordan-Bloch at an Earthjustice meeting in Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy of Earthjustice

The story took over local media after William, the Tribe and then-Sierra Club field organizer Vinny Spotleson (who has more to say below about William's legacy) screened the film for the press. Journalists came to witness the tribe’s fight against coal pollution and for clean energy. Their reporting—front-page stories in the local papers, and investigations on all three local TV stations--brought politicians to the reservation.

Additionally, Earthjustice filed another lawsuit with the Tribe about local air pollution caused by the plant. Eventually, the litigation, the communications, the media attention, the politicians, and most importantly the tribe’s activism led to the shutdown of the coal plant.

Our communications team and litigators worked with him and other tribal members as they made change, and William was incredible through it all. He had a sharp intellect and a fighter spirit, and he was a truly kind and genuinely funny person.

If you would like to “meet” William, to see the face and hear the voice of a true environmental hero, please take a few minutes to check out “An Ill Wind,” the film that Earthjustice made with the Tribe.

Rest in peace, William.

Former Sierra Club field organizer Vinny Spotleson, who is now a program director at Nevada Conservation League, contributed this obituary for William:

MOAPA, NV - Former Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Chairman William Milton Anderson passed away Sunday in his home at the age of 44. In 2000, William became one of the youngest chairpersons in the history of the Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribe at the age of 26. He will be most remembered for his second term as Chairman where, under his leadership, the Moapa Band of Paiutes reshaped the energy and environmental landscape of the Southwestern United States.

In 2011, William Anderson was elected for the second time to the Moapa Tribal Council and selected by his fellow council-members to be Chairman. Since 1965 the Nevada Power Company had owned and operated the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant, located only a few hundred yards from the Moapa Band of Paiutes’ housing on their Reservation. The plant expanded four separate times, and in 1999 received what was at the time the largest fine in history from the Environmental Protection Agency for pollution violations. Tribal members had been complaining about health problems stemming from the coal pollution for decades, so William worked with Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and the Western Environmental Law Center to bring a series of lawsuits against the Southern Nevada Health District, Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, and the Bureau of Land Management over the plant.

William Anderson at his desk
Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

In addition to legal actions, William empowered the tribe’s Environmental Committee to work with Sierra Club to organize a grassroots campaign against the plant, challenging several permits in public hearings, bringing members of the media to the Moapa Reservation, and conducting health studies and screenings in the community. In April 2012, Chairman Anderson led a three-day, 50-mile march from the Reid Gardner coal plant to the federal building in downtown Las Vegas to call for the plant to close. The Moapa Band of Paiutes then joined a coalition of environmental organizations and clean energy businesses to lobby the 2013 Nevada Legislature to pass Senate Bill 123 which closed the plant earlier than scheduled and replaced part of it with solar power. After the legislation was signed by Governor Sandoval, the Moapa Band of Paiutes were awarded $5 Million in a settlement with NV Energy. The Reid Gardner coal plant, historically the largest single source of greenhouse gas pollution in Nevada, is now closed and under remediation.

William Anderson and other Moapa Band of Paiutes tribal members pose after agreeing to sell solar power to the city of Los Angeles.
Photo courtesy of Moapa Band of Paiutes

More than just fighting air and water pollution from Reid Gardner, William worked to be a part of the solution as well. While Chairman, the Moapa Band of Paiutes secured a purchase power agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to build a 250 MW solar power plant on their Reservation. This would become the first large scale solar power plant on tribal land in the United States. The agreement between LADWP, First Solar, and the Tribe was for $1.6 billion over 20 years. The Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Plant began operating in March 2017.

After moving on from the Tribal Council, William got involved in efforts to protect Gold Butte, a more than 300,000 acre area north of Lake Mead between Valley of Fire and the Arizona border which was part of the original Moapa River Indian Reservation. Rich in cultural artifacts, the land had been damaged for decades by looting, vandalism, and illegal grazing operations. William was selected by his tribe to travel to Washington, D.C. and lobby the Secretary of the Interior, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and the White House Council on Environmental Quality on the need to protect Gold Butte. Once again, William’s efforts were successful and in December of 2016 President Obama designated the Gold Butte National Monument.

William Anderson at Gold Butte National Monument, which he successfully lobbied the federal government to protect.
Photo Courtesy of Kirk Siegler

William’s impact was felt far beyond Moapa and Nevada. During and after his Chairmanship, he traveled the country speaking out against fossil fuels and their health and climate impacts, while promoting clean energy and the protection of Native American culture. William traveled to Seattle and spoke out against coal exports, and visited the Burns Paiute Tribe in Oregon shortly after the Bundy family occupied their ancestral land. William even addressed the Navajo Nation Council. The Navajo Nation, the largest tribal community in the United States, has been extremely dependent on coal. Nonetheless, the Navajo Nation is now transitioning off coal and developing their own large scale renewable energy projects. Chairman Anderson’s leadership was an inspiration to tribes and communities burdened by coal pollution across America.

When not involved in government or the environment, William was a graphic artist selling his designs on clothing at Pow-Wows and other gatherings across the west. He is survived by his mother Shirley Anderson, his sisters Launa Lane, Monica Surrett, Docian Molden, Betty Henry, and his son Logan Anderson, 8, of Moapa, NV. Funeral Services will be held on Friday, February 2nd with a viewing at 1 pm, and service at 2:00pm at the Moapa Tribal Administrative Building located on 1 Lincoln Street, Moapa, NV 89025.

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