Student environmentalists petition for quicker end to UI coal

BY JENNY EARL | OCTOBER 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa Sierra Student Coalition is gathering student signatures in hope of ending the UI's dependency on coal.

And though the coalition hasn't reached its goal yet, some UI officials have expressed support for the plan.

Over the last three weeks, the Sierra Student Coalition has reached out to students in hopes of educating them on the coal issue. The group hopes to collect more than 2,500 signatures for a petition it plans to submit to UI President Sally Mason.

"Sadly, there are some students that aren't aware that we even have a coal plant on campus," said UI junior and coalition cofounder Zach Carter. "A lot of people don't know a lot about coal, and in that way, I think coal is an abrasive issue. Student's don't know a lot about it and ignorance is bliss, I guess."

On Tuesday, group members stood on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway, inviting students to lift 16-pound buckets of coal and 4-pound buckets of oat hulls, representing the amount of the two fuels the UI Power Plant uses per day per student.

The group will also hold a film screening, information booths, and a tour of the Power Plant this week in order to spread awareness.

UI officials say they have plans in place to curb coal use.

Liz Christiansen, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability, said she hasn't seen the petition yet.

"I think they're doing a valuable service to their fellow students and raising awareness to build renewable energy and to conserve energy as well," she said. "We agree with their goal, we support that goal, and we're actively working toward it."

Christiansen said the university is developing a plan to meet the school's goal of achieving 40 percent renewable energy use in 10 years.

Meeting the 2020 goal will take the UI very close to moving off coal entirely, she said.

But Carter said Sierra coalition wants the university to completely stop using coal by 2020.

The group started the petition in the summer, he said, focusing on off-campus residents, but it has recently moved it target to UI students.

Carter said his group shares the same values as Greenpeace's 100 Precent Clean: 100 Actions for Clean Energy, a campaign in which college students from all around the country lobby for clean energy.

Greenpeace advises students to challenge university administrators and take creative actions to get local decision-makers' attention to make them rethink their reliance on coal.

Last week, three members of Michigan State University's Greenpeace were arrested for trespassing and refusing to leave the school president's office in protest of the university's coal use.

However, the UI Sierra group hopes to wait and go to Mason with the petition.

"We haven't met with Mason yet," Carter said. "We didn't want to show up and tell her point-blank; instead, we'd rather come and talk to her with the support of UI students."

The organization also launched a website Sunday night, allowing people to sign the petition online.

As of Tuesday evening, 370 people had signed the online petition; cofounder of the group Meredith Place said members have recorded close to 700 signatures on hard copies.

Although UI officials have announced their commitment to weaning off coal, Carter said his group will continue to push them to eliminate their coal use more quickly.

"What [UI officials] don't have that we're creating is pressure," he said.

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