2012 Archives

The power plant next door: Indian tribes disproportionately exposed to energy development

Excerpt

The following Associated Press story appeared in several publications, including the Washington Post. Historian Sherry Smith provided expertise for this story.

July 10, 2012

MOAPA, Nev. — Beyond the ancestral hunting fields and the rows of small, sparse homes, the cemetery at the Moapa River Indian Reservation sprawls across a barren hill with the tombstones of tribal members who died young.

Their deaths haunt this small desert community outside Las Vegas. Children play indoors, afraid they might be next. Hoping to keep out the air they believe is killing their people, tribal elders keep their windows shut and avoid growing food on the land where their ancestors once found sustenance....

The Moapa Paiutes need not travel far to stare down their perceived enemy: The coal-powered plant blamed for polluting the southern Nevada reservation’s air and water is visible from nearly every home.

 “Everybody is sick,” said Vicki Simmons, whose brother worked at the Reid Gardner Generating Station for 10 years before dying at age 31 with heart problems.

Across the country, a disproportionate number of power plants operate near or on tribal lands. NV Energy maintains its plant near the Moapa Paiute reservation is safe and has been upgraded with the required clean emissions technologies.

Meanwhile, local, state and federal health agencies say they cannot conduct accurate health studies to verify the tribe’s complaints because the sample size would be too small....

Sherry Smith, a history professor who co-edited the book “Indians and Energy: Exploitation and Opportunity in the American Southwest,” said hardly anyone paid attention or were aware of potential environmental consequences when the power plants were built decades ago.

 “These are not simply people who have been duped by the government or the energy corporations,” said Smith, director of the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University in Texas. “They are simply 21st century people who are coping with the same issues the rest of us are about economic development and the environmental consequences and having to weigh these things.”...