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Peggy Pierce, courtesy ACLU of Nevada
Peggy Pierce, courtesy ACLU of Nevada

My friend Peggy Pierce, a stalwart defender of the environment and a champion for social justice, died today.

I met her almost 15 years ago, when I arrived to be a reporter on “growth” for the Las Vegas Sun. She and her friend Jane Feldman worked together as co-chairs of the conservation committee for the state Sierra Club. Together, they were two voices against a nearly unanimous chorus of business, government and social voices who demanded growth, growth at all costs, growth for growth's sake, growth for profit and damn the environmental and community consequences.

Of course, years later, it's easy to see that Peggy and Jane and those few who said stop, consider and act carefully were correct. They anticipated the end to growth, the economic collapse that the end would create, and the environmental impacts that were too often ignored.

Like so many others, from across the political and philosophical spectrum, I loved her spirit, enthusiasm and honesty from the start.

Pierce represented the hope and potential that Las Vegas brought, and I hope still brings, to so many new residents. Like many, she worked in casinos, not as an executive, but as a rank-and-file worker.

She believed passionately in protecting our community from very real threats. The Sierra Club was pilloried for doing it, but the nonprofit sued to stop Clark County, the state and federal road builders from widening U.S. 95. Peggy was one of the leaders of that effort.

Peggy and others said that there were concerns that the air pollution generated by the many new cars slated to clog the widened road would have an effect on neighborhoods and schools nearby the highway.

Pro-growth, pro-car and anti-environmental powers mocked the Sierra Club and Peggy for the stand on the issue. However, the Sierra Club won, forcing the state to relocate schools and residents who would have been exposed to car and truck exhaust.

About the same time, studies started piling up that showed exposure to that vehicle exhaust was very dangerous, and affected the physical and mental development of children. The club, and Peggy, were right.

Peggy wasn’t afraid of anyone. With the help of labor, she got elected to the Assembly in 2002. In the Assembly, she opposed projects that she felt would have a detrimental impact to community and environmental health, or just didn’t make much sense. Her opposition to projects like the proposed $15 billion water pipeline (then optimistically if ridiculously estimated to cost less than $2 billion) to rural Nevada earned her the enmity of former allies in labor, who put up a competitor in the 2004 primary election.

They lost. Peggy won. And the community kept a fearless and tireless advocate for common sense.

But as much as she worked for community health, her own suffered. For a decade, Peggy battled breast cancer. I talked with her earlier this year, and of course I asked how she was feeling. She shrugged and said she’s been better, she’s been worse.

Condolences poured in today from her colleagues and friends, many of whom remembered her from her early work and her work throughout this 2013 session of the Nevada Legislature, one in which she continued to fight for social and environmental justice.

The world is a little smaller, a little meaner and a little less safe than it was yesterday. We will miss you, Peggy.