Students gearing up for Great Coal Debate

| Staff Reporter

Debate regarding the future of coal will touch Washington University’s campus once again this week. Fred Palmer of Peabody Energy and Bruce Nilles from the Sierra Club will face each other in Tuesday’s Great Coal Debate.

Palmer currently serves as vice president of government relations at Peabody, while Nilles is the director of the National Coal Campaign for the Sierra Club.

Headquartered in St. Louis, Peabody Energy is the largest private-sector coal company in the world, generating 10 percent of the electricity consumed nationally. Gregory Boyce, CEO of Peabody Energy, is a member of the University’s board of trustees. Along with Ameren and Arch Coal, Peabody Energy is also a lead sponsor of Wash. U.’s Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization.

On the other side of the debate, The National Coal Campaign encompasses efforts to move beyond coal and adopt carbon emission-free energy. The campaign includes Campus Beyond Coal, an initiative to collaborate with college students throughout the nation to limit coal’s future. The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest environmental organization in the United States.

According to senior Melissa Legge, an organizer of the event, the debate is an opportunity for students to hear unfiltered accounts from each side.

“We [organizers] wanted to open up a dialogue on campus around the subject of coal…and open up a forum for the future of coal to be debated about,” Legge said. “Both sides deserve to be heard. We really want the debate to be…balanced.”

Senior Kady McFadden, another organizer of the event, agrees.

“It’s really important to understand what the arguments are on each side so that we can really make informed decisions going forward,” she said.

The Great Coal Debate will occur in Graham Chapel at 5 p.m. Tuesday. A reception will follow the event in Tisch Commons at the Danforth University Center. The entire debate will be streamed live on the website

Each speaker will have 20 minutes to make a statement. Debaters will then answer five questions submitted previously by students. At the end of the event there will be a chance for audience members to ask questions. Brian Walsh, senior correspondent from Time magazine, will moderate.

A similar debate at the University of Charleston in West Virginia inspired McFadden and junior Harry Alper to organize Wash. U.’s version. Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, and Robert Kennedy Jr., founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance, debated a variety of issues surrounding coal, including poverty and the environment.

McFadden hopes that the debate will allow students to participate in an issue that largely affects St. Louis as well.

“People talk about coal in West Virginia, but we should be talking about it here in St. Louis…Two of the largest coal companies in the nation are in St. Louis,” she said.

“I hope that students recognize, first, how big of an issue coal is, but also how big of an issue it is in St. Louis and at Wash. U.”

Senior Will Fischer wants the event to further bring the campus to the forefront of the coal debate.

“Students can participate in a national and international discussion,” he said. “The debate really brings this national dialogue to campus.”

Student environmental activists have previously made their views known about the University’s involvement with coal executives. In November, students protested the University’s support of clean coal research with a flash mob at a reception following the America’s Energy Future symposium. Student Union later passed a resolution in support of the students’ activism.

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