SU Senate passes resolution that decries ‘clean coal’ in name of research group
Student Union Senate unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday night denouncing the use of the term “clean coal” in the name of Washington University’s clean coal research group as inaccurate and calling for a new name without the term.
The resolution against the name of the group, the Consortium on Clean Coal Utilization, which is a part of the International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability (I-CARES), came on the heels of another Senate resolution passed last week. Last week’s resolution backed student activism at a protest against the University’s support of clean coal energy technology at an energy conference on campus.
The resolution passed at Wednesday’s meeting, which saw Simon Hall 113 packed with more students than there were seats, denounced the consortium’s use of the term “clean coal,” and called the term an “industry marketing term intended to obscure negative effects of coal extraction, combustion and disposal.” The resolution recommended that the University rename its consortium the “Coal Energy Research Group” or “Coal and Environment Research Center.”
“The issue that students brought to us was the presentation that calling it ‘clean coal’ was not accurate. It’s a marketing term. It’s not something that’s appropriate for a scientific research institution like our University,” said senior Chase Sackett, speaker of the Senate.
The resolution also urged the consortium to research the social and environmental effects of coal extraction, combustion and disposal.
Junior Jake Novick, one of the senators who sponsored the resolution, said that coal is damaging to the health of people who live near coal-burning sites.
“To call it clean is to marginalize those people and those problems,” Novick said.
Novick said that coal research does have practical implications, but the term “clean coal” is misleading.
“To have the name and our name be right next to each other with that very misleading term—it really diminishes what we can take away from this research and really compromises it,” Novick said.
Freshman Jason Yakabu, the other senator sponsoring the resolution, said the resolution comes partly in response to students’ concerns about corporate influence on the University from energy organizations like Arch Coal, Inc. and Peabody Energy. Both of these corporations were present at the University’s energy conference, and the University appointed the CEOs of these companies as members of its board of trustees earlier this year. Yakabu said students have a duty to speak out on their concerns about these issues.
“It’s an issue of academic responsibility,” Yakabu said.
The resolution also established that the SU executive adviser for sustainability, a post currently held by senior Will Fischer, will act as a liaison to the Washington University Climate Justice Alliance (WUCJA). WUCJA is a recently formed coalition of more than 10 student groups that approaches climate change as a social justice issue.
The resolution is a step forward for SU, according to Novick.
“It’s kind of a turning point in the way of the resolution in terms of taking a lead on an issue as opposed to joining in and saying, ‘Yeah, we agree this is a good thing’ or, ‘this is a bad thing,’” Novick said.
The Senate postponed voting on a stronger resolution about clean coal last week so that senators could become better educated about the subject and ensure that their resolution was properly crafted.
“I’m a little unhappy that it got postponed, but I’m happy we did it, just because it came out so much better, and if we passed something last week it wouldn’t have been nearly as good,” Yakabu said.
Senators say student response to the issue of clean coal has been unprecedented. Senators found their inboxes filled with constituent e-mails on the subject and the Senate meeting on Wednesday was packed with more students than many senators said they had ever seen.
Sackett said this surge in student interest represents his vision of a successful SU.
“Students [are] seeing that we [have] an input and make a difference on things that they really care about on campus,” Sackett said.
With additional reporting by David Messenger and Lauren Olens