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College Campuses Continue to Leave Coal Behind

60 U.S. campuses have coal-fired power plants. Lawsuits and activism are trying to phase them out

By Joan Oleck

Nov 11, 2010

With campuses nationwide getting energy from coal plants, student protests and lawsuits over power generation have become a part of the college experience.

Earlier this month the Department of Justice filed a suit against the state of Pennsylvania over what it called repeated at Slippery Rock University’s coal-fired boiler plant.

And last month the Sierra Club and the Hoosier Environmental Council petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to look into an Purdue University got in July. It was signed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and it will allow the school to continue operating and even expand its coal-powered boilers. The petition claims the permit violates the Clean Air Act.

Both lawsuits come at a time when American colleges are continuing to rethink the wisdom of having coal-fired plants on their campuses as a primary energy source.

They're also part of a larger trend explored in a Nov. 3 which says that litigation is playing an increasingly important role in determining the amount of power the government has under existing law to address the climate problem.

While most lawsuits have been filed by industry players, 24 percent of total climate-change related cases since 2001 have come from environmental groups challenging the permitting of coal-fired power plants.

Most Campuses Are Shifting Away From Coal

The movement on campuses continues to be in the direction of greener energy sources, said Kim Teplitzky, a campaign representative from the Sierra Club’s Campuses Beyond Coal, the environmental organization’s ongoing effort to promote cleaner energy on American campuses.

The organization has been tracking the use of coal-fired power plants on university and college grounds for several years, most recently in an updated released in September. In October it launched , an anti-coal action featuring videos targeted to a college audience.

Commitments to transform campuses to largely or completely coal-free are coming from high-profile institutions, among them the University of North Carolina (UNC), the University of Illinois, Western Kentucky University, and Case Western Reserve in Cleveland. Already, UNC has named 2020 as its coal-free deadline, with an “aspirational” deadline of 2015.

Ball State University in Indiana plans to construct the largest closed geothermal system in the nation by 2017. And the University of Illinois has within seven years as part of its plan to reduce energy use and cut carbon emissions.  

Meanwhile, an independent project, the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, claims to have to a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent.

That’s why Purdue’s actions are so troublesome to the environmental sector. The university “is going the opposite direction, wanting to actually build new coal infrastructure, which is ludicrous,” said Teplitzky.

Michigan State Has Nation's Largest On-Campus Coal Facility

Michigan State University is another school with major coal issues, Teplitzky said. MSU is home to the T.B. Simon coal-powered electric facility, the in the country. It burns 250,000 tons of coal a year.

I am really happy to read

I am really happy to read that students are pushing the envelope for the
move away from coal. There's a great video about some, albeit younger,
students organizing to promote renewable energy in their  community here:

I am really happy to read

I am really happy to read that students are pushing the envelope for the move away from coal. There's a great video about some, albeit younger, students organizing to promote renewable energy in their  community here:

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