The Dernogalizer

April 6, 2010

A Beast Event for Greening East Campus

Photo: Charlie Deboyace, Diamondback

Last night, UMD for Clean Energy held its major event of the semester, Making East Campus a Beast Campus, and it rocked!  I counted 70+ students, College Park civic activists, half the College Park City Council, the Mayor, and Vice President for Admin Affairs for the university, Ann Wylie.  At this event, we called for the university to make it’s upcoming $900 million East Campus development a model for universities across the country.

I personally got to speak about the need for the buildings to be carbon neutral.  It was great to get a discussion going between students, politicians, experts, and university administrators about the largest investment in our college town in several decades.  After the event, students, residents and members of the City Council talked to myself and other members of the group, fired up about making sure that our growth is truly green.  Below is the front page Diamondback article on the event.  We’ve already pushed into the blogs (#1, #2, #3), opinion section of our newspaper, created a new website page for how citizens can influence the development, and a video from UMD students explaining why we need to build green.  We even spread the event info via Twitter!  We’re expecting a big hit from Maryland’s Prince Georges Gazette this Thursday.  **Update** : Here it is

EAST BY ECO-FRIENDLY

Students aim to make campus’ major development greener

By Dana Cetrone and Amy Hemmati

While the East Campus development plan boasts a fancy movie theaters and restaurants, there’s one thing UMD for Clean Energy would like to see it become — beastly.

UMD for Clean Energy held a panel in the Stamp Student Union last night as part of their “Making East Campus a Beast Campus” project. A group of experts discussed how changing East Campus for the greener would stand to benefit the university. About 60 students attended the discussion and provided feedback and suggestions on how to improve plans for the development, which was disrupted last year when the main developer pulled out of the project.

The panel consisted of Tom Liebel, the associate principal architect at Marks, Thomas Architects — a firm that specializes in sustainable building — James Foster, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society, and Ralph Bennett, director of Purple Line Now. The panel did not include any representatives from any potential East Campus tenants or prospective developers, who would be responsible for covering the high costs of eco-friendly technology.

“The most important thing is to come out of this starting a better dialogue between students, the administration and the city about the project,” said senior sociology major Laura Calabrese, UMD for Clean Energy’s organizational director. “The project is a mystery to the student body and they have had no chance to weigh in. They don’t have a good idea of what the university is doing.”

Vice President for Administrative Affairs Ann Wylie attended the meeting. During the question-and-answer session, she pledged the development process would be transparent, and the development itself as green as possible.

The vast majority of attendees were students, many of whom UMD for Clean Energy officials said were unaffiliated with eco-action groups. Participants were encouraged to discuss the viability of the environmental options the group is asking the administration to consider.

“I am interested in what’s going on,” sophomore plant sciences major Caroline Brodo said. “Students are the majority here, and they’re going to be the ones served by the development, so we should be aware of what’s going on.”

The group has already developed a general platform of what they want to see, including carbon-neutral buildings, businesses that cater to students and fewer parking lots.

“We need building standards that are going to stay true to the university’s Climate Action Plan,” group campaign coordinator and Diamondback columnist Matt Dernoga said in reference to the university’s plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. “That plan was for the current school, now we’re adding 30 acres. The buildings are going to need to be very, very green to be anywhere close to carbon-neutral.”

The East Campus development will be inherently more sustainable than previous university projects that were built on forested areas because it can reuse pre-existing materials and is a more efficient use of land, Liebel said.

UMD for Clean Energy members also emphasized the importance of having locally owned businesses that would appeal to students, such as a grocery store within walking distance. If the local population is targeted, they said, fewer people from outside College Park will visit, and there will be less traffic. With fewer people driving in, the focus can be on alternative transportation.

“There needs to be businesses that meet the needs of the local community, that students will want to go to and that will be affordable,” Calabrese said. “The point of smart growth is to be acceptable to the community and not the corporation. It should be what people want, not just for the sake of having something cool-looking.”

Other environmental concerns, such as runoff from buildings contaminating the Anacostia River, were brought up, although diverting the excess waste could prove challenging. Calabrese said the environmental importance of waste management should not be “stifled by the bureaucracy” associated with the development process.

“Whatever happens on land ends up in the river,” Foster said, while showing pictures of trash heaps collected in river beds and broken sewage pipes leaking raw waste directly into the river. “The Anacostia is an urban river, and it’s going to take urban warfare to clean it up. We’ve got to take it and hold it down.”

dcetrone@umdbk.com, hemmati@umdbk.com

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Congressman Collin Peterson is Biofool of the Year

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 4:53 pm
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This was done by Friends of the Earth!

press release

CONGRESSMAN COLLIN PETERSON WINS BIOFOOL OF THE YEAR AWARD
Congressman recognized for to giving billions in subsidies to dirty and inefficient biofuel companies

Washington, D.C. Congressman Collin Peterson, chairman of the powerful House Agriculture Committee, prevailed against tough competition to receive Friends of the Earth’s annual Biofool of the Year award, which was delivered to his office on Monday.

With almost 2,300 votes, Chairman Peterson was the clear winner amongst the five nominees. His past Biofoolery includes: demanding that the EPA stop factoring deforestation into environmental impact assessments of biofuels, trying to exempt dirty biofuels from key global warming standards, and trying to open forests and natural areas for biofuels exploitation.

Friends of the Earth Energy Policy Campaigner Kate McMahon had the following comment:

“It is no surprise that Rep. Peterson won the Biofool of the Year award.Over the past year, he has consistently attacked safeguards against pollution from biofuels despite overwhelming evidence that today’s biofuels are bad for the environment and contribute to food insecurity.”

Peterson is currently co-sponsoring H.R. 4940, which extends billions of dollars in tax credits to oil companies for conventional corn ethanol production, despite scientific analysis indicating that corn ethanol creates more greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. Corn ethanol also contributes to water pollution, habitat destruction, soil erosion and health issues from pesticide and herbicide use.

Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica joined McMahon to present Congressman Peterson with a certificate, a congratulatory petition signed by over 700 people, and a celebratory can of corn. A video of the presentation is available at: http://www.foe.org/happy-biofools-day.

Friends of the Earth’s annual Biofool of the Year Award was established to recognize leaders that promote dirty biofuels. The 2009 winner was Hugh Grant of Monsanto.

EPA: Reaching the mountaintop

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:28 am
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I’ve got a column out in the Diamondback about the recent groundbreaking decision by the EPA to heavily regulate mountaintop removal mining, and what needs to happen next.

EPA: Reaching the mountaintop

During the past two years, I’ve written a couple of columns harshly criticizing the Bush and Obama administrations for their failure to use the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Water Act when it comes to mountaintop removal. I’m thrilled to write now that the Obama EPA, under the leadership of Lisa Jackson, has issued a new set of strict environmental guidelines for mountaintop removal that is expected to sharply curtail, if not end, mountaintop removal mining. It’s being applauded by environmentalists and decried by coal companies. The National Mining Association is saying it could mean the “end of an era.”

Mountaintop removal mining uses explosives to access coal at the base of a mountain, generating large volumes of toxic waste that bury adjacent streams. The resulting waste ruins water quality, causing permanent damage to ecosystems and leaving streams unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. It is estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining. This has ruined the quality of life for many residents of Appalachia and has led to health problems for people who drink the water and breathe in the toxins from the waste.

There are a lot of reasons for this victory. The largest by far is the mountaintop removal activists in these Appalachian communities who mobilized year after year, repeatedly risking arrest (and getting arrested) through civil disobedience when there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Chances are their steadfast determination in putting the spotlight on this issue forced the EPA’s hand.

But this university did its part. Students have organized many educational events on this issue. I’ve been to four mountaintop removal events on the campus since the spring of 2008, and there’s another planned on April 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Nanticoke Room at the Stamp Student Union. It should take on a more positive tone for a change.

Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science was one of the leading authors of a recent groundbreaking study on the environmental damage from mountaintop removal and its human health effects. The study linked elevated rates of mortality, lung cancer and chronic heart, lung and kidney diseases to communities near mountaintop removal mines. Palmer helped garner attention for the science through countless media interviews, including a spot on The Colbert Report.

The fight isn’t over yet. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) have penned legislation called the Appalachian Restoration Act, which would redefine mining waste as a pollutant. This would prevent companies from dumping mining waste into valleys and streams below their projects, forcing them to truck the debris off-site. This would make operations too expensive and effectively end mountaintop removal. There’s similar legislation in the U.S. House called the Clean Water Protection Act.

Hats off to the EPA and President Obama for delivering on change for these communities in Appalachia. Now it’s up to Congress to make this the beginning of the end for one of the greatest human rights abuses going on in the country today. Finish the job. Sell coal back its soul.

Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com.

Will Lisa Jackson actually use the Clean Air Act to Regulate Carbon?

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 12:16 am
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There was a solid Newsweek article a few days ago about whether Lisa Jackson and the Obama Administration has it in them to move forward and regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act if Congress doesn’t seriously act.  The big question is whether the Obama Administration has the guts to go for it.  I want to excerpt a few pieces from it.

“But if that conciliatory approach doesn’t work, Obama can count on Jackson as his climate enforcer. Unless Congress acts by next January, Jackson says, the EPA will use its authority under America’s Clean Air Act to phase in new restrictions on carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. The U.S. emits nearly a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide; the EPA has identified it and five other greenhouse gases as a threat to public health. “The difference between this administration and the last is that we don’t believe we have an option to do nothing,” Jackson told NEWSWEEK.”

“But that doesn’t mean her job will be easy. Three months after announcing her intent, Jackson, a chemical engineer who spent years working within the EPA bureaucracy, is starting to see just how difficult it may be. For starters, the Nixon-era Clean Air Act was never intended to regulate a pollutant as pervasive as carbon. Both environmentalists and industry heads also acknowledge that Congress would be able to address the problem better. “The only thing everyone agrees on is that a regulatory approach would be more extensive and less effective than legislation,” says Paul Bledsoe, spokesman for the National Commission on Energy Policy, a Washington think tank. But until Congress takes up the question, Obama holds the only key to sweeping carbon cuts”

“Jackson’s do-it-or-else version will contain none of that. Yet despite protests by members of Congress that Jackson is infringing on their turf, leaders on Capitol Hill—mistrustful after the passage of health care and worried about a double-dip recession—have shown little interest in taking up the issue. Republicans, largely skeptical of climate change, are opposed to steep emissions cuts, and even many Democrats who are sympathetic to the cause in principle don’t want to make trouble with big employers (and donors) back in their home districts. (Some lawmakers have introduced protest bills that threaten to rewrite the Clean Air Act to curtail the EPA’s power, and even to dry up funding for the agency. They aren’t expected to go anywhere, although Jackson says she’s prepared to fight such measures.)”

“The big question in Washington isn’t whether the EPA has the authority to singlehandedly force polluters to radically cut their carbon emissions; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that it does. It’s whether the White House is actually serious about carrying out Jackson’s plan—or if it is just noisily bluffing to get Congress to take some action, even if it falls short of Jackson’s ambitious cuts.”

“The one to watch for that answer isn’t Jackson, but Obama. With a health-care victory under his belt, the president has new clout, both with Congress and with a growing number of voters. But if the January deadline approaches and Congress still hasn’t taken up a plan to reduce carbon, Obama will have to decide if he has the political stomach to make good on Jackson’s ultimatum—a move unpopular enough that it could land him back in the trenches. It wouldn’t be a quiet fight. The other side would attack him as anti-business and anti-jobs, and it wouldn’t all be Republicans.”

“”The president understands that EPA must follow the science and its legal obligations,” says a White House official who spoke under the usual rules of anonymity. “But he has made abundantly clear that his strong preference is for Congress to pass energy and climate legislation.” Hardball Washington translation: let’s make a deal.”

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