SU mulls rebuking WU for its stance on clean coal power

| Contributing Reporter
Student Union passed two resolutions Wednesday, one in support of student activism at Monday’s student protest of the University’s energy conference and another recommending that the Village extend its dining hours.  SU Executive Advisor for Sustainability Will Fischer (at right in left photo) presses SU to take a more critical approach of the University’s position on clean coal, a controversial energy technology supported by Chancellor Wrighton, right. (Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

Student Union passed two resolutions Wednesday, one in support of student activism at Monday’s student protest of the University’s energy conference and another recommending that the Village extend its dining hours. SU Executive Advisor for Sustainability Will Fischer (at right in left photo) presses SU to take a more critical approach of the University’s position on clean coal, a controversial energy technology supported by Chancellor Wrighton, right. (Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

Student Union is debating whether to pass a resolution critical of Washington University’s position on clean coal. The resolution would come in response to a student protest of the America’s Energy Future symposium conference, which was hosted by the University’s International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability on Monday.

The symposium focused on several “green” energy technologies such as clean coal, which some members of the University, including Chancellor Mark Wrighton, have advocated as a practical short-term solution to address energy needs and climate change.

Some students have criticized the University’s position on clean coal. They say the technology promotes the corporate interests of coal companies such as Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, Inc., both of which were represented at the conference, at the expense of sources of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.

In an effort to express this opinion, about 100 students held a “flash mob,” during which they flooded the symposium reception in the Danforth University Center’s Tisch Commons. When signaled, the protesters held signs saying “Beyond Coal” and wore police tape wristbands stating “Global Warming Crime Scene.” The students also dropped banners from the second floor railings saying “We Need Wind Solar Geothermal” and “Coal is Never Clean.”

The protest was organized by members of Green Action, Engineers Without Borders, Students for Endowment Transparency, Burning Kumquat, Wash. U. Peace Coalition and senior Kady McFadden, student representative to the board of trustees.

Students hold signs as part of a flash mob organized by Green Action in protest of the America’s Energy Future conference, which was hosted by Washington University on Monday. (Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

Students hold signs as part of a flash mob organized by Green Action in protest of the America’s Energy Future conference, which was hosted by Washington University on Monday. (Matt Mitgang | Student Life)

Senior Will Fischer, former president of Green Action and current SU executive advisor for sustainability, spoke at the protest using a megaphone.

“We will not stand aside as executives from companies like Arch Coal and Peabody paint a dirty energy future for our school and our nation,” Fischer said, standing above a banner with the message “Power Beyond Coal.” “We believe that America’s real energy future uses socially responsible, renewable energy sources.”

Fischer invited those at the reception to go to “OUR Energy Future symposium,” a student-led conference in which students and faculty discussed non-coal energy sources.

Representatives from Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, Inc. did not attend the symposium. Some executives from Ameren, an electricity provider that sent representatives to the University conference, attended the student-led symposium.

Junior Peter Murrey, president of Green Action, said students at the protest wanted to show that they do not agree with the University’s partnering with coal executives.

“We really want to debunk what we feel is a growing corporate influence on this University,” Murrey said. Murrey noted that two of the new trustees appointed by the University this year are CEOs of Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, Inc.

Wrighton said in an interview at the reception that although the board of trustees relies on the advice of individual trustees, it functions collectively, and individual members do not guide its decisions.

“No single trustee is going to be able to drive the University one way or another,” Wrighton said.

Student Union takes action in response to protest

Student Union passed a resolution Wednesday in support of the students’ activism but tabled further discussion on whether to support the protesters’ position against clean coal until next week.

Next Wednesday, Nov. 11, SU senators will debate a resolution to express SU’s position on the University’s use of the term “clean coal,” particularly as it is used in the name of the I-CARES program Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization. Senators decided to table the resolution until next Wednesday because they wanted to conduct more research on the University’s involvement with clean coal.

Fischer said he hopes that SU will take a more assertive position on clean coal during next week’s meeting.

“Student Union needs to pass a resolution stating that the University is damaging its image by choosing to adopt marketing slogans of a dirty industry,” he said.

The University’s position on clean coal

The University has taken the position that clean coal is a short-term solution that can be used alongside other long-term solutions like solar power.

Wrighton argued that current financial challenges in slowing climate change make it necessary to commit to both the short- and long-term implementation of renewable energy resources like solar power.

“I’m excited about the prospect of doing fundamental research that may open up opportunities on renewables, but I think in the meantime we have to make sure that our economy remains strong, and that’s going to require access to energy in great abundance that can’t at least at the moment be provided from renewables,” Wrighton said in an interview.

Wrighton also presented findings at Monday’s conference from the Committee on America’s Energy Future, which issued a report to Congress on methods of combating climate change.

Martha Schlicher, vice president of biofuels at Monsanto, one of the organizations at the conference, said she feels pressed to implement immediate action against climate change.

“Every day we don’t do something, we are increasing those cumulative greenhouse gases out there in the environment,” Schlicher said. “There has to be a sense of urgency in everything that we do.”

Jennifer Smith, assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences, also attended the conference and said she appreciated hearing a corporate angle on America’s energy issues.

“Honestly, at this point, what I’d like to see is anything,” Smith said. “Anything is better than nothing.”

  • econ 101

    ditto to 2005 Alum

  • 2005 Alum:

    Someone please prick the WU bubble and help students see whats actually going on in the world. Do the students have any idea of the quantum of financial costs that would be imposed on US businesses if “clean”coal was banned. Have people even done the research on the true costs of other “greener” fuels. Seriously – this is the superficial research that results in things like ethanol being touted as being green.

    Also seriously guys – stop being so naive. Of course business interests support coal – but there are other business interests that support renewables. How silly would it be if my point for a protest was that WU was supporting corporations like FSLR etc. Someone needs to make a class on property rights and environmental law compulsory for everyone who wants to protest. If after that they still believe they want to protest – then power to them – at least it won’t be as ignorant as this article makes it seem.

  • whole nine yards

    Clean Coal is a marketing term. A more accurate description would be to call it “Cleaner Coal technology”
    According to an MIT report by Ernie Moniz, professor of physics at MIT, a true clean-coal technology solution is evolving and will likely lie in a combination of several new technologies for capturing carbon dioxide and storing it to keep it out of the atmosphere.
    Professor Moniz says “All of these approaches are promising and should be pursued as our resources in coal can take care of our energy needs for over 200 years. . All these technologies are amenable, at some cost, to highly reducing and sequestering carbon. There are several different avenues that should be pursued, and money is being poured into this technology from the private sector. ”

    This should be supported not attacked as there are approximately 174,000 blue-collar, full-time, permanent jobs related to coal in the U.S.: mining (83,000), transportation (31,000), and power plant employment (60,000).

  • JM

    Tens of thousands of middle class jobs can be re-focused in renewable energy. The senate resolution was not to stop CCS research, it was to call it by a scientific term, not the marketing term, “clean coal”. Coal is certainly abundant, but it is by no means “clean”. This is exactly the type of misinformation that the senate resolution would work to fix.

  • whole nine yards

    Unfortunately the student union is being hijacked by a bunch of naive “cool aid “drinkers. There is nothing wrong with clean coal technology, as born out by our top scientists.
    It’s easy for some affluent wana be lawyers “who joins the student union” to speak out against it, but it’s a clean abundant resource that the US has and it would cost tens of thousands of middle class jobs if it were eliminated.