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August 01, 2013

University of Georgia Students, Community Take a Stand Against Campus Coal

Nationwide, college students continue to take the lead on climate action. From leading divestment campaigns, to urging their schools to move beyond dirty fuels, this generation of students is full of truly inspiring leaders.

This week was no different down at the University of Georgia, where close to 50 UGA students, alumni, and local community members packed a public hearing on the school's on-campus coal-fired boiler.

"For four years, students at UGA have been asking the administration to be a leader in clean energy development and retire the outdated on-campus coal-fired steam boiler that threatens our health," said David Littman, a UGA junior and member of the school's Beyond Coal group.

"Tuesday night's hearing gave members of the larger Athens community who are concerned about coal's effects on our lungs the opportunity to join UGA students in our efforts to get coal off campus."

The school's last remaining coal-fired boiler is more than 50 years old and is the largest source of air pollution in the county. After getting numerous requests from students and Athens community members, the Environmental Protection Division agreed to hold a public hearing to discuss the proposed renewal of UGA's federal operating permit under the Clean Air Act. Every five years, Georgia power plants are required by law to renew permits to continue emitting pollution into the environment.

Tuesday night, the students and neighbors banded together again to urge the state Environmental Protection Division to not grant an extension to the plant's permits without additional pollution monitoring, additional limitations on the plant's operations, or a timetable for retirement.

Before the hearing, a crowd gathered at a rally to hear from students and community members about the fight against dirty coal and for clean energy at UGA.

UGAHearing4The rally featured UGA senior Laura Toulme (pictured at the left), who expressed concern over student health and disappointment in the administration's lack of leadership in addressing this aging coal boiler. Laura represented more than 5,000 student and 100 faculty voices. 

Students at UGA and beyond want their schools to lead on clean energy and climate action. They know universities are the perfect places to support energy innovation and to prepare them for the jobs in the rapidly growing field of clean energy. Clean energy solutions like solar, offshore wind, and energy efficiency can create tens of thousands of jobs for Georgians, and Georgia Power's new 500 megawatt solar mandate serves as a good place to start. Moreover, the university now has an opportunity to get solar electricity at a set rate for a number of years from Georgia Power.

Meanwhile, at the University of North Carolina, after getting school officials to agree to move beyond coal to power the campus, students are now pushing for the school to divest from investments in companies that are wrecking the climate.

And because of student organizing and fantastic youth leadership like that at UGA and UNC, students at 22 universities nationwide have secured retirement dates for on campus coal plants, including the University of Illinois (where students have also launched a divestment campaign), and even at my alma mater, the University of Tennessee.

Back in Athens, this week's hearing also represented the start to a critical fall semester. UGA has taken large strides in recent months to find a cleaner, more efficient replacement to the coal boiler, recently selecting an engineering firm to produce an actionable energy plan (PDF) that is set to be published this fall. As critical decision dates approach, university administrators have heard loud and clear that students and the community want to move beyond coal.

UGA students are calling on the administration and the Board of Regents to join other leading institutions and commit to a plan that gets Georgia's flagship university off of coal for good. I love the inspiration these young leaders provide every day, and I'm so proud to work with them to move the nation beyond coal and toward more clean energy.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director. Photos by Michelle Norris.


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