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September 23, 2014

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Clean energy, strong tribe

On Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will begin a three-day hearing to listen to mothers, fathers, tribal leaders, clean energy workers, faith leaders, utility groups, business owners and others comment on its proposed Clean Power Plan.

This is the first-ever national proposal to significantly reduce dangerous, climate-altering carbon pollution from existing power plants. I will attend the hearing to show support for the strongest of protections and share the story of how my tribe, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, and my state are successfully moving away from harmful polluting resources to a clean energy future.

Our story starts half a century ago, when one of the nation’s dirtiest coal plants was built near our land. For decades, the Reid Gardner coal plant left the Moapa Band of Paiutes and nearby residents to suffer the undeserved consequences of the filthy pollution it produced.

Every year, Reid Gardner emitted more than 4,000 tons of nitrogen oxides and 1,200 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air. Those pollutants are known to cause or exacerbate asthma attacks, lung disease, sinus problems, thyroid disease, cardiovascular problems and even premature death.

Additionally, the 5 million tons of carbon pollution it generated annually contributed to climate disruption, which threatens our community and those around the world.

This story is not specific to the Moapa Band of Paiutes. Like many other small, underserved communities in America, we were not only up against a massive coal plant, but large companies that had more resources and a louder voice in the debate. However, we knew we needed to stand up for our families, our land and ourselves, so we fought and were joined by others willing to fight with us.

Last year, our efforts paid off. With the help of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and many supportive organizations, state lawmakers passed legislation that required the retirement of the Reid Gardner plant and stipulates that renewable energy will replace a significant amount of its power. Shortly after it passed, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed it into law. Today, after decades of breathing dirty air and years of fighting it, we are relieved that the Reid Gardner plant is retiring and that clean energy, including a 200-megawatt project on our reservation land, will be built in its place.

Our story shows how communities, energy providers, organizations and all levels of government can come together and work toward a solution. Because we built an energy plan centralized around the needs of our people, we as a tribe are moving forward to a clean energy economy that will support us in more ways than one.

And the state of Nevada is moving along with us. Nevada’s law requiring 25 percent of our energy be provided with renewable resources by 2025 has spurred economic growth. Today, more than 80 solar companies are at work in Nevada, employing 2,400 people. Our state now ranks second in per capita solar installations. For us, the solar power we are building on our land is bringing jobs for our people and creates an economy that supports us.

However, we cannot stop here. Nevada is experiencing greater droughts, more severe wildfires and other disasters that cost more than $330 million a year. We as a state and nation are still relying on energy sources that make our children sick and hurt our land.

In our modern world, we should not have to sacrifice the health of our people to keep the lights on. As the EPA works to finalize a plan, agency officials must remember stories like ours. They must listen to what the people really want out of our energy sector. And they must protect those most vulnerable to the consequences of poor energy decisions.

Over the coming months, as the EPA receives input from the public, I encourage the agency and others to look at our tribe as an example of what new, strong safeguards can do to spur innovation, create jobs and strengthen our economy. I also encourage other Moapa Band of Paiutes tribal members, Nevadans and others to join me in asking for a plan that will protect the health of our families, our environment and our world for generations to come.

For those who want to comment on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, click here.

Vickie Simmons is a member of the Moapa Band of Paiutes’ Tribal Council.

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