May 3, 2007

Cornell, U. Maryland Students Support Sustainability

Print More

A proposal to charge students at the University of Maryland — College Park a small fee to purchase clean energy received overwhelming support from the undergraduate community.
Student leaders at UMD are hoping that the University administration will implement this fee by 2008 or 2009. The proposed fee would start at $4 and increase by $2 every year to reach a maximum price of $12.
According to a UMD Energy press release, if fully implemented, the fee would raise enough money to purchase 137,000 Megawatt hours of clean electricity per year at today’s prices and would be the largest purchase to date by a college or university in the United States.
The vote on the fee declared 91 percent of the UMD undergraduate community in favor of the fee. This came as no small surprise to many, as tuition and fees have been on the rise at UMD in the past several years.
This is similar to recent action taken at Cornell. During Student Assembly elections, 79 percent of the undergraduates voted in favor of a $5 per semester fee for clean energy and green projects on campus. The referendum was sponsored by the Student Assembly and Kyoto Now!, who are currently working with the administration to get an opt-out $5 fee added on to students’ bursar bills.
“Students realize that environmental stewardship is important,” said Dan Ryan, a senior at UMD, “it’s better to correct our behavior now than have to clean up our mistakes fifty years from now.”
Electricity production in Maryland makes up much of Maryland’s total pollution emissions. According to the press release, power plant emissions contribute to acid rain, mercury bioaccumulation, ground smog, and human health issues, such as respiratory disease and asthma. The proposed fee would allow for the purchasing of energy from wind, solar, geothermal and other energy providers that do not emit harmful pollutants.
“The fee proposal was developed after the Student Government Association was approached by a student group called UMD for Clean Energy,” said Sam Snellings, the chair of the Maryland Student Government Association’s Environmental Affairs. “They were interested in creating a strong student movement towards non-polluting forms of energy, and thought that a referendum would be an excellent way to educate the campus on the issue as well as demonstrate widespread support to the administration.”
Like UMD, Cornell takes its own part in contributing to clean energy. Kyoto Now! is an organization here on the Cornell campus whose goals are to educate Cornellians about renewable energy and global warming, and influence them to take action and make our campus a more energy sustainable place.
“Here at Cornell we have taken many big steps,” said Katherine McEachern ’09, vice president of Kyoto Now! “In late February after Kyoto Now!’s Climate Neutral Cornell campaign, President Skorton signed the American College & Universities Presidents Climate Commitment which commits Cornell to becoming climate neutral.”
“The students at UMD are showing that they understand the responsibility they have to cut their own carbon emissions. UMD is a huge school, and its purchase of clean energy can do a lot to cut CO2 emissions and have a positive impact on the clean energy market in the area,” said McEachern.
According to Snellings, Maryland’s power plants produce 53 percent of the mercury emissions, 39 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions and 74 percent of the sulfur dioxide emissions in the state. UMD alone consumes more energy than 22,000 average homes.
“Clean energy is so important because we currently have to face the scientific consensus that global warming is here, that it is caused by human factors and that we have to take action now to prevent massive climate destabilization,” said McEachern. “Luckily, students, universities, towns and states are beginning to take action. We’ll need a lot more than that — a problem this big takes action on national and international levels, but the first steps have been promising.”
Snellings explained that clean forms of energy cost only cents more than their pollution-causing counterparts.
“Clean energy is such a great issue because it is so easy to impact cheaply,” said Snellings. “The impact would be enormous. Not only would it be the largest clean energy purchase by a college or university in the country, but it would really set the state of Maryland firmly on a road to sustainability. Our state government already passed higher renewable energy portfolio standards this year, and we want this kind of trend to continue. We have an amazing opportunity to really integrate clean energy into the unconscious decisions of the populace.”