Power Plants Impacting Native Americans
Associated Press reports that many Native American communities are being negatively impacted by power plants. In a July 4th article, they reported serious health problems in Native American communities from coal plants.
A “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. In all, about 10 percent of all power plants operate within 20 miles of reservation land, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Many of those 51 energy production centers are more than a half-century old and affect roughly 48 tribes living on 50 reservations. Fewer than 2 percent of all people in the United States identify as Native American and only a small portion live on tribal land.
In many cases, Native American leaders have long embraced energy development as an economic opportunity for communities battling widespread unemployment. But a growing backlash has some tribal leaders questioning whether the health and environmental risks associated with energy production has put their people in harm’s way. While it’s not conclusive that coal operations pose a direct danger to reservation residents, the Moapa Paiutes are one of several tribes demanding the closure of their neighborhood power plants.
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.”
When coal is burned, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury compounds are released into the air, according to the EPA. Research has shown those fine particles can be linked to serious health problems, including premature death. Children, who breathe more often, and senior citizens, who tend to have health problems agitated by pollution, are particularly vulnerable, said Colleen McKaughan, an associate director in the EPA’s air division.