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Students to Mason: move beyond coal

BY MARY KATE KNORR | NOVEMBER 17, 2011 7:20 AM

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Campus environmentalists delivered a petition with 2,500 signatures to President Sally Mason's office on Wednesday, urging the University of Iowa administration to curb the school's coal use sooner than later.

That petition brings the number of signatures the UI Sierra Student Coalition has collected this semester to more than 3,000.

After weeks of collecting signatures, roughly 35 members of the student organization stood outside Jessup Hall on Wednesday morning, where they acted as a "human billboard," holding posters and chanting.

Though the UI is creating a plan to achieve 40 percent renewable energy use by 2020, the Sierra Club wants 100 percent by that time.

Mason was not in the her office when the demonstrators delivered the petition. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Graham Jordison, a state organizer for Sierra Student Coalition, said the fight to eliminate coal as an energy source is a national issue.

"More than 17 campuses so far already made commitments, [and] there are campaigns on 60 campuses," he said. "Ohio State, just two weeks ago, made a commitment to invest $10 million in building and drilling more than 450 geothermal wells."

Jordison said the geothermal wells will provide heating and cooling for the school and will save Ohio State nearly one-third of its yearly energy costs.

"We've been on Iowa's campus for two years now. We've delivered in total more than 3,000 [signatures]," Jordison said. "If [Ohio State] can do that there, we can do that here."

Students at least one more Big Ten school are pushing against coal as well. This past October, three members of Michigan State University's Greenpeace were arrested for trespassing and refusing to leave the school president's office when they protested the university's coal use.

Liz Christiansen, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability, said the switch from fossil fuels to clean energy is not simple.

"We need to take the time to plan with our partners. We need to develop the local biomass market, and we need to design and implement changes to our energy system," she said. "In January, [we will] launch a yearlong planning effort that will look at the issue of biomass as a coal substitute … so we'll have a clearer picture."

Although she applauded student efforts, she said the university deserves credit for its track record in sustainability.

"Since 2003, the University of Iowa's been publicly reporting progress in conserving energy, establishing renewable-energy systems, and reducing the use of coal," Christiansen said. "Our long-term vision is to get beyond all fossil fuels."

One student, however, said the UI's effort is not enough.

"Let's face it — the university has a lot of money, and it puts its money where students want it to be," said Meredith Place, the founder of UI's Sierra Student Coalition chapter. "It asked that we show student support, and now we have student support, so we're expecting it to come back to the table and hold up its end of the deal."

Former Hawkeye and NFL football player Tim Dwight, who owns a solar-energy firm in California, said the UI needs to lead the rest of the nation in making the transition to renewable energy.

"Leadership needs to step out of business-as-usual and say, 'Hey, we're gonna change the way we harvest our resources,' " Dwight told The Daily Iowan on campus Wednesday. "They've got to show, 'Hey, this is where the world's going, and we want to be part of that.' "


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