By Sarah Hodgdon, Sierra Club Conservation Director
Vickie Simmons of the Moapa Band of Paiutes in southern Nevada has known more than her fair share of loss. Her brother died, far too young, after working for years at the Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant, which sits immediately adjacent to the Moapa Paiute reservation. Several of her best friends on the reservation have also died too young, mostly from cancer or respiratory ailments, and many others, including her son, are sick.
And Vickie knows the cause—toxic pollution from the Reid Gardner plant, which she has been working for years to clean up or shut down. "I've seen so many people in my tribe suffer from debilitating respiratory ailments like asthma and sudden nose-bleeds from living and working near the plant," she says. "All of us have family members who've gotten sick or died. People's bodies aren't holding up. It feels like a ghost town sometimes."
Vickie serves on the Health and Environmental committees for the Moapa Band. Last year she and fellow tribal activists Calvin Myers and Vernon Lee worked with the Sierra Club to organize a three-day, 50-mile Cultural Healing Walk from the reservation to the federal building in Las Vegas, culminating in an Earth Day rally.
The purpose of the healing walk, which attracted participants from tribal nations and other supporters throughout the Southwest, was to draw attention to the devastating health effects of coal pollution on the Moapa Paiute community and call for Reid Gardner's retirement. It was also, Vickie says, "a memorial walk for all our friends and family members who have died."
Vickie's efforts were rewarded earlier this month when NV Energy announced that it would shut down three of Reid Gardner's four units next year, and the fourth will be taken offline by 2017
The tribe has organized a 16-mile Coal to Clean Energy Walk on Saturday, April 20, from the Reid Gardner plant to the site of a large-scale solar project planned to be built on Moapa Paiute lands. Construction is expected to begin this year on what will be the largest solar project on tribal lands in the nation. The city of Los Angeles announced last month that it will purchase energy from the Moapa solar project as part of L.A.'s commitment to get off coal by 2025.