The Dernogalizer

November 15, 2010

Green leadership: A lesson for Loh

Filed under: University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 10:58 am
Tags: ,

I have a column out today in the Diamondback containing suggested sustainability initiatives for the University of Maryland’s new President Wallace Loh to undertake.  Unfortunately space limitations shortened the column substantially, below is the extended version.  The link I provided above goes to the published version.

As a member of the University of Maryland’s environmental community, I’m excited to see what steps our new President Wallace Loh will take to build on the progress made under Dan Mote.  In some ways, Loh has much to live up to.  During Mote’s tenure, the university took unprecedented steps in sustainability all the way from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to setting green building standards to increasing our recycling rate.  At the same time, many students and faculty I know felt Mote was more concerned about promoting a green image, regardless of whether that meant taking bold leadership.  Sometimes it did, but other times it meant hypocrisy.  Here are five initiatives Loh can lead on to blaze a new path for the university this decade that’s far greener than the last:

Green East Campus: The nearly billion dollar East Campus redevelopment project now being undertaken by the Cordish Company is an opportunity to revitalize downtown College Park and lead the way on green development.  Since East Campus is in its early planning stages, now is the time to make clear publicly what the university expects from Cordish.  We can set a new standard for green development that goes beyond our current LEED Silver building standard, traps 100% of storm water runoff to protect the Chesapeake Bay, promotes local business, and isn’t car centric.  Getting there is going to require leadership from Loh.

Support the Purple Line for Real: The Purple Line alignment has been an area where the university administration has butted heads with everyone else in the state!  The university has given a myriad of reasons why they favor more expensive and less efficient alignments, and none hold up under a scrutiny.  End the hypocrisy and support mass transit by supporting the Purple Line alignment that’s in competition for federal funding.

Put Solar On It: Although the university has begun to install a little solar such as on the South Campus Dining Hall, we aren’t being as aggressive with it as we should.  One possibility is to enter into a long-term purchase power agreement with a solar company.  Another suggestion is to analyze the recently purchased Washington Post Plant where the university will be relocating facilities for East Campus.  That plant has a huge roof.

Less Plastic: Although we’re doing a better job of recycling it, there’s way too much plastic being given out at this university.  Given that students can drink tap water from the university’s filter stations, there’s no reason we should have bottled water for sale on this campus.  Another problem is unnecessary plastic bags given out by cashiers in the university’s stores.  Students should have to ask for the plastic bags, and they should come with a five cent fee.

More Local and Healthy Food: There is strong support on the campus for the university to provide healthier food options to that have less of an environmental footprint.  Some possibilities for action are providing more vegetarian options, using cage-free eggs, growing some food on campus, and setting ambitious targets for increasing the percentage of food which comes from within a day’s driving distance.

Loh has enthusiastic partners all over campus working on sustainability issues.  If he can match that enthusiasm, and lead with us, we’ll all be successful.

November 1, 2010

My Op-Ed: Wind energy: A matter of priorities

Filed under: Dernoga,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 11:21 am
Tags: , ,

I have a column out today in the Diamondback about what needs to be done for Maryland to get offshore wind turbines off its coast.  Enjoy!

Wind energy: A matter of priorities

By Matt Dernoga

There’s a growing buzz in the state over the enormous potential for offshore wind development off our coast. In early October, Gov. Martin O’Malley  held a rally with the United Steelworkers to tout the 4,000 manufacturing jobs and 800 permanent jobs that could be created from a 1,000 megawatt wind farm off our coasts. Google recently joined a partnership to build a $5 billion network of transmission lines along the East Coast. In 10 years, this system will allow mid-Atlantic states to share wind energy when one area of the coast is windy and the other isn’t.

Environmental groups have held town hall meetings around the state with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Energy Administration to inform citizens about offshore wind. At one I attended, they were been joined by NRG Bluewater Wind, a wind energy developer poised to build a 200 megawatt wind farm off the coast of Delaware. Many questions and concerns about offshore wind were answered.

How much wind potential exists off our coast? Enough to meet 67 percent of the state’s electricity needs. What’s the cost? Although offshore wind is a little more expensive than prices in the current state market, you’re locked in to paying for it at the same rate for 25 years because the wind isn’t getting more expensive. Given the volatility of our electricity prices in recent years, this should be a welcome development and will most likely save money in the end. What about birds, fish and the view? The state government has partnered with conservation groups such as the Nature Conservancy and fishermen to map out the ocean and rule out areas that are sensitive to migratory birds and watermen. The areas that are being considered happen to be more than 10 miles off the coast.

The state is sorely lacking one thing: a firm commitment from government to be not just a partner with the offshore wind developers but also a customer. A reason Delaware is ahead of Maryland on offshore wind is because it approved a 200 megawatt Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between Delmarva Power and NRG Bluewater Wind. Wind energy companies need a guaranteed buyer in line before they are willing to risk a major upfront investment into energy infrastructure. Otherwise it’s like buying a house and taking on a mortgage when you don’t have a job.

O’Malley knows this. In July, he co-authored a letter with Delaware Gov. Jack Markell to President Barack Obama asking for the federal government to enter into a PPA for 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind. The letter said this state has already committed to 55 megawatts, alongside Delaware’s 200. What O’Malley glossed over is that the PPA in this state is actually with this university and NRG Bluewater Wind, and it’s for the Delaware project! What a small world in a big ocean.

There are a lot of state government buildings in Annapolis. If we are asking the federal government to commit its buildings to a PPA, why can’t we do it here? We need a significant enough draw for a developer such as NRG Bluewater Wind, which is interested in building a 600 megawatt wind farm off the state’s coast. If the state wants to be on the forefront of the emerging clean energy economy, a PPA for offshore wind needs to be a priority for the newly elected governor and legislature in 2011.

Matt Dernoga is a graduate student in public policy. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com

 

October 18, 2010

Column: Improving College Park: The case for a student voice

Filed under: Dernoga — Matt Dernoga @ 1:16 am
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I have a column out today about the possibility of the City of College Park where I attend graduate school lowering the minimum age required for being a candidate for city council from 21 to 18 years old.  I come out in favor of this change.

Improving College Park: The case for a student voice

By Matt Dernoga

Monday, October 18, 2010

The College Park City Council will be considering legislation Oct. 26 on whether to lower the minimum candidate age for city council office from 21 to 18 years old. Last year, I was very active in the city elections with the student group UMD for Clean Energy. Although we didn’t run any student candidates, we had an active role in raising awareness of environmental issues facing the city that candidates should address. Based on this experience, I have some insights on why I think lowering the age limit to 18 would be great for College Park.

You might think of College Park politics as limited to serving on the city council, but I consider it being involved in the community and having a stake in the neighborhood. Despite all that College Park has to offer, citizen participation often leaves city officials wanting, as it is very difficult to find not only candidates to run for office but also more members to sit on advisory committees. Student participation especially is almost nonexistent.

As a result, most students don’t care about the well-being of College Park. When you’re not involved in your community, you’re more likely to disrespect it. Indeed, I’ve heard city residents rightfully complain about noise violations, a lack of cooperation in combating crime and hundreds of beer bottles, cans and cups left in parts of Old Town after parties. When a large part of the population is completely disengaged from its community, College Park hurts.

Development and transportation issues could badly use student involvement. If residents aren’t talking to students, they often have to deal with whatever the university administration decides it wants. Engaged students serve as a check on university actions that impact the city. As new projects such as the East Campus redevelopment, the Purple Line and additional student housing are shaped, students need to play a role. UMD for Clean Energy met with city council candidates on these kinds of issues last year, and many of those candidates welcomed student input and were pleased to find we had common ground.

Lowering the age limit to 18 will draw more students running for office. However, candidates who stand a chance at winning elections will not be stereotypical college students filing their papers and then walking over to Thirsty Turtle with a fake ID. They’ll be ambitious, politically motivated young people who were involved in Young Democrats or Young Republicans in high school, interned for a politician or ran for a position in the Student Government Association. In order to stand a prospect at winning, they’ll have to go to civic association meetings, knock on doors, develop a platform and genuinely build a connection with city residents. These will be the students who are more likely to stay involved in the city after they run because of their newfound connection with the community, as are their student supporters. Some may end up living here.

What if a student wins? They’re probably very smart and talented for their age if they can pull it off. All people are different, and most students aren’t interested or qualified, but there are exceptional 18 to 20 year olds who are mature beyond their years and would be effective on the city council.

Lowering the running age will mean greater involvement in bettering College Park, which is something that should make every member of the city council smile, and vote yes.

Matt Dernoga is a graduate student in public policy and is the son of  Tom Dernoga, the chairman of the Prince George’s County Council. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com

 

August 31, 2010

Slinging it: A political necessity

Filed under: Dernoga — Matt Dernoga @ 7:57 pm
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My first column for this semester is out in the Diamondback, and it’s less environmental and more about the need for elected officials to take greater risks to solve problems, and the need for voters to tolerate those risks.  Enjoy!

Slinging it: A political necessity

By Matt Dernoga

I wrote a farewell column in May to my readers (mom, girlfriend, livid tea partiers). But now I’m enrolled in graduate school and writing for another semester. A friend told me that by writing a farewell column and then un-retiring, I was following in the footsteps of NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who has made an annoying ritual out of this. I actually admire Favre for his approach to football. He goes out there and slings it around like it’s his last game. He wins big by taking risks and, consequentially, loses big by the same measure.

I contrast that from what I see too often from decision-makers in politics, who toe the line between constituencies on two sides of an issue. Most legislation nowadays is inconsequential and more effective in scoring political points than in tackling big-picture problems. Instead, major issues such as a multibillion-dollar structural budget deficit in this state, a Chesapeake Bay on the ropes and the Purple Line are tackled in broad rhetoric. This is especially striking in this year’s election season, with primary day on Sept. 14. The fear of backlash prevents serious proposals from being put on the table so voters are more informed.

You see economic plans that talk about increasing efficiencies in government — a worthy goal that, after major cuts to local and state budgets, is like reaching around in a piggy bank for that solitary penny. Tax credits are a favorite. Credits for small businesses that stand on water. Credits for mini-wind turbines on your baby’s stroller. Credits for people who apply for tax credits. Tax credits of all forms abound. In all seriousness, I like a lot of the tax credits we have, but there comes a point where you need to stop nibbling at the edges and take a bite.

Another example is the Purple Line — a proposed light-rail line that would connect Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and run through this campus — which practically everyone supports. But try asking a politician how they’re going to help us pay for it. In every scenario, the state will have to pony up some matching funds for any federal grant money we get. Are politicians going to cut tens of millions of dollars each year in transportation funding for other projects? Are politicians going to increase the gas tax to raise several hundred million dollars?

What’s unfortunate about this apprehension over solving problems is that we share the blame. Too many victory-starved political pundits, activists and insiders play along with bland candidate platforms they know won’t address the issues. Voters get cynical and detach from the political process or, even worse, play along with the game, hoping this time will be different.

In a competitive world where we’re just trying not to lose, we plod along, asphyxiated by the mediocrity of our politicians. But this is a democracy, and our elected officials are a reflection of the best and the worst of you and me. As individuals, we’re put into a comfort zone by our peers and society. We’re told how we’re supposed to act and think so we’ll be accepted. We drift toward voting for those who reflect that comfort zone.

If we want to break the walls down and find hard-fought-over successes in our lives and our society, we need to take more chances and have greater tolerance for leaders who ask us to trust them as they take their own chances. You could call it change. I call it going out there and slinging it.

Matt Dernoga is a graduate student in public policy. He can be reached at dernoga@umdbk.com

May 11, 2010

The Gravity of Writing

Filed under: Dernoga,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 11:53 pm
Tags: , ,

I had my last op-ed of the year out today, and possibly my last with the Diamondback.  I have to decide soon whether or not to try and keep doing this while in graduate school.  I thought it would be good to reminisce about how I started writing columns, and what the experience has done for me.  Enjoy!

Dernoga: The gravity of writing

By Matt Dernoga

Back in March 2008, I wrote a joke guest column titled “Gravity is a Hoax!” that imitated a stereotypical global warming denier by arguing against the existence of gravity with ludicrous assertions. This prompted The Diamondback’s opinion editor at the time to offer me a columnist position with the stipulation I would write about environmental issues.

I was going to turn down the offer because I was afraid I wouldn’t consistently have good material to write about. Then, I got an e-mail from a man in Denmark who had stumbled across my column on “gravity” and seriously thought I was denying the existence of gravity. He apparently agreed and presented me with a host of links he had found proving gravity was, in fact, a hoax.

I had to politely tell him that I was actually referring to global warming in the column (which should have been obvious). In his response, he said global warming hadn’t crossed his mind while reading since it wasn’t a debate in Europe. He was flabbergasted that a sizable percentage of Americans actually thought it was an elaborate hoax (but apparently gravity was fair game). Though I’m probably not going to go to this guy for my physics homework, it struck me at the time that my column wasn’t the joke — we were.

Most people, including activists, just don’t know a lot about environmental issues, and in many ways, it’s the media’s fault. There isn’t much written in newspapers about those issues, and when they do get attention, they’re reduced to sound bites and straw man arguments. Usually, it’s “protecting the environment will hurt the economy” in a thousand different forms.

So I took the columnist position. I’ve found it to be one of the best uses of my time here as an undergraduate. By researching the intricacies of environmental issues I often knew little about, I learned how to frame them in ways both the reader and I could understand. As an environmental activist, writing these columns challenged me to actually investigate hot topics beyond the surface. I found this made me a more capable advocate for my issues because I could weave different aspects and angles of an argument together to make a strong case.

I’m grateful for the number of people who have e-mailed me with kind words about my columns and even suggested topics to write about. Sure, it’s The Diamondback, and we tend to think the appeal of content in this paper is limited to our university bubble, but there aren’t many reporters or columnists in this state who competently write about green issues on a regular basis. As a result, I received outstanding support and column ideas from people around the state. Almost half of my column topics were actually ideas or issues brought to my attention by others. Instead of struggling to write original material, I struggled with deciding which topic to go with each week.

My time as an undergraduate is drawing to a close. Depending on what I decide to do in graduate school, this may be my last column. Either way, getting my message across to you every week has been a fun and rewarding part of my college experience. I hope you learned as much as I did. More importantly, I hope you use it. Thank you.

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

May 4, 2010

My Op-Ed on the Offshore Drilling Disaster

I have a column out today about the offshore drilling disaster, and the need for America to get off of dangerous and dirty fossil fuels.

Oil spill: The drilling disaster was always doomed

By Matt Dernoga

I really do feel for President Obama. The president recently split with the base of his party and announced the approval of offshore drilling in areas all along the east coast. A few days later, in North Carolina, the president stated, “I don’t agree with the notion that we shouldn’t do anything. It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.” As I write this, an oil slick the size of Jamaica is hitting the Louisiana coast and threatening several states all the way east to Florida.

It started on April 20 with an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers. Not long thereafter, the oil company responsible, BP, realized that safety precautions had failed, and oil was gushing out of the well 5,000 feet below the surface of the water. Since then, estimates of how much oil has been leaving the well have climbed exponentially, and it’s now estimated to be 210,000 gallons a day. Because we rushed to drill this deep so soon, we lack the technology to access and shut off the well in a timely manner. No one knows when we will be able to shut off the well, but it could take as long as three months. This could eclipse the famously catastrophic Exxon-Valdez spill from 21 years ago by the time it’s over.

While this is politically damaging for Obama, pro-drilling Democrats and hopefully every Republican who has uttered the words “drill, baby, drill” with Sarah Palin since 2008, the real blame lies with our morally bankrupt energy system. That oil rig and others like it were in the water long before Obama’s new offshore drilling announcement because of a failure by our government to enact the policies necessary to transition us away from a dangerous dependence on dirty fossil fuels. That, and too many people were suckered by the oil companies into believing we had the technology to do this safely and without consequence.

This incident doesn’t stand alone when it comes to fossil fuels. Earlier this month, 29 coal miners died in the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia because coal company Massey Energy scoffed at the notion of safety regulations. Leaks of radioactive water have recently been found in power plants in Illinois and Vermont. In February, five workers were killed in Connecticut when the natural gas plant at which they were working had an accidental explosion. Despite conventional wisdom these operations are safe, accidents happen with our fossil fuel infrastructure all the time. And every once in awhile, we get a big one.

Is it worth the risk? Not if you’re a fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico, which supplies 59 percent of the country’s oysters and about 73 percent of our shrimp catch. Not if you’re one of the rescue workers tending to the area’s 5 million migratory birds, 445 species of fish, 45 species of mammals and 32 species of amphibians. Not if you’re burying a member of your family because he or she got killed feeding our dirty energy addiction.

We can’t get off fossil fuels overnight, but we sure as hell should do it faster than we are now. That should be the lesson everyone takes away from this one.

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

April 27, 2010

Op-Ed on Electric Cars

Filed under: energy,transportation — Matt Dernoga @ 11:41 am
Tags: ,

I got to test drive the Chevy Volt last week.  I thought I’d follow up by writing a column about electric cars and their arrival.  Enjoy!

Volt: Test-driving the comeback car

By Matt Dernoga

I found myself behind the steering wheel of General Motors’ highly anticipated Volt, driving around the campus last Wednesday. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid car with a battery that powers the car for up to 40 miles combined with a gas engine with a range of 300 miles if you need it. It was pretty sweet.

Just a few years ago, I wouldn’t have expected it. I remember the famously depressing 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? that took a look at what forces were responsible for the demise of the EV1, a fast, highly efficient electric car that was produced in the early 1990s. Since then, gas prices rose to painful levels, our oil dependence became a major environmental and national security issue, and automakers finally figured out you can go green and still make green.

After test-driving the Volt and reading about Nissan’s all-electric 100 mile-range “Leaf,” I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been that electric cars are here to stay. Both these cars are mainstream and coming out near the end of this year. Throw all the electric car stereotypes out the window. After a $7,500 tax credit from the federal government for these advanced battery vehicles, the prices are in the range of ordinary, gas-powered sedans. The Volt accelerated with ease, so highway speed will be no problem. The average daily commute of 75 percent of Americans is 40 miles or less, meaning the ranges on both cars will cover the majority of our trips. Special outlets for charging aren’t necessary, just an outlet and an extension cord.

Part of the appeal is how cheap it is to buy the electricity to power the car versus buying gas. For example, fully charging the battery of the Volt will cost the average American less than a dollar a day. Last time I looked, a gallon of gas around here had come close to $3 and was climbing. Charging a battery could be even cheaper if you do it in off-peak hours with a utility company that offers variable pricing based on real-time electric demand. This is typically at night when few appliances are at use, and electricity is dirt cheap.

The presumption that most of us would charge our cars at night, when electricity demand is low and prices are cheap, is important. One criticism of electric cars is they’ll likely be powered by dirty energy, or add so much new demand to the grid that we’ll have to build more power plants. The reality is the electric power grid has a large amount of generated but unused electricity every night that goes to waste. Much of the added demand from electric cars to the grid would just take advantage of energy that would ordinarily go to waste anyway.

I think President Barack Obama’s goal of a million plug-in cars on our roads by 2015 is too low. This technology is here now, it’s affordable and if we’re going to move away from oil, the electric car is our best bet. We need to invest more in the technology so we dominate this emerging industry, and bring manufacturing jobs back to America.

It’s very fitting that a new documentary is in the works titled Revenge of the Electric Car. Success for these new vehicles would be sweet revenge.

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

April 26, 2010

US Senator Ben Cardin Speaks with UMD Students about Federal Climate Legislation

This past Friday, UMD for Clean Energy hosted US Senator Ben Cardin at the University of Maryland for a Clean Energy Town Hall.  It went pretty well, we had a good turnout, I counted 70-80 attendees  at the event, tough and smart questions, and a good speech by Cardin about the need for the US to act.  While there was some disagreement with the Senator over the merits of nuclear power, common ground was largely found on the rest of his articulated positions, particularly over the need to not have offshore drilling of the coast of Maryland, which would threaten the Chesapeake Bay.  Cardin expressed appreciation for the leadership efforts of students at the university, and the strong showing of support for US leadership on climate.  He said he can go back to DC and point to examples like us to his colleagues as reasons why our country has no excuse not to act.

Below is the article in The Diamondback about the event (it called nuclear power renewable, I will ask for a correction), as well as a video UMD for Clean Energy made.  We showed it to Senator Cardin at the start of the town hall.  What’s impressive about this video is that none of these statements by students were scripted.  This highlights how knowledgeable and engaged students at UMD are on this issue.

Cardin pushes for clean energy legislation

By Leyla Korkut

An upcoming federal bill aimed at tackling the country’s numerous environmental issues should enable the country to make progress toward clean, renewable energy by offering reforms such as protecting the Chesapeake Bay from offshore drilling, Sen. Ben Cardin told a group of students Friday.

Cardin (D-Md.) spoke to a few dozen students in the Stamp Student Union’s Benjamin Banneker Room at a town hall forum sponsored by UMD for Clean Energy. The event was designed to give students a chance to question the senator about upcoming environmental legislation.

One climate bill in particular — which has already passed the House of Representatives — may come before Cardin and his colleagues in the Senate within the next week, he said.

Cardin said he hopes this bill will protect the Chesapeake Bay from offshore drilling, institute cap-and-trade policies and invest in renewable forms of energy, which are issues Cardin said should be tackled now — strengthening what he called a watered-down bill passed by the House.

“Environmental issues are mainstream America. It’s a popular issue,” Cardin said. “As a result, we’ve been able to pass some far-reaching bills — all have been passed with the last 40 years. We’re trying to protect our environment, and now that [President Barack] Obama’s been elected, the Environmental Protection Agency is actually protecting the environment.”

However, Cardin argued citizens of the state should not take this opportunity for granted because the Chesapeake Bay is constantly at risk for pollution.

“The problem today is our great water bodies are being polluted, and they’re very difficult to clean up,” Cardin said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure it’s there for future generations.”

Cardin said one of the primary ways to preserve the Chesapeake Bay and other bodies of water is to create an energy policy that will rely less on polluting fossil fuels — including oil, particularly from foreign sources — and more on renewable sources of energy, such as nuclear, solar and wind energy.

“We can argue energy policy based on national security,” Cardin said. “We spend a billion dollars a day importing oil; we’re financing people who’d like to see us go away. The only way we can become energy independent is to develop renewable sources. We know that we have to do much better on an energy policy that relies on renewable energy sources.”

Cardin also described a proposal to create a national cap-and-trade system, in which each company would be allocated an amount of pollutants its operations may emit and a company with minimal pollution could sell its allocation to one that is less eco-friendly. Cardin’s proposal would remove a set price for carbon emissions, letting the market decide the value of carbon pollution.

Students at the forum largely agreed with Cardin’s policy proposals, but junior environmental science and policy major Cara Miller said she was not completely convinced nuclear energy was worth investing in considering nuclear waste’s potential danger.

“I came in on the fence about the issue,” she said, “and he didn’t sway me one way or the other.”

Senior government and politics major Matt Dernoga, a Diamondback columnist and UMD for Clean Energy’s campaign director, said that among the numerous issues that Cardin hopes to tackle, the most important was ensuring federal standards would not prevent this state from excelling in its environmental goals.

Cardin told students Friday that he was especially optimistic about the climate bill given how much the university has improved its sustainability practices in recent years.

“I’m convinced we’ll pass a global energy climate bill,” he said. “We’re going to be able to pass those goals. I’m more optimistic today knowing what you’re doing at the University of Maryland. If UMD can do it as a campus, there’s no reason why industry can’t do it.”

korkut@umdbk.com

Image Credit: Charlie DeBoyace, Diamondback

April 20, 2010

Op-Ed “Energy legislation: Time to clean up”

I have an Op-Ed column in my school’s college newspaper: The Diamondback.  It summarizes some of the main reasons why we need to pass climate legislation, mentions the release of climate legislation in the Senate, and alerts students of a Clean Energy Town Hall with US Senator Ben Cardin that my group UMD for Clean Energy is holding this upcoming Friday.  If you’re in Maryland, you should come.

Energy legislation: Time to clean up

Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are scheduled to release their long-awaited comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation to the U.S. Senate on April 26. This will begin the most important environmental debate of our time: whether to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the planet.

But regardless of whether you consider yourself an environmentalist, the benefits of addressing our carbon pollution are so vast there’s something appealing for everyone —  except for the oil and coal companies. Here are some of the reasons why we must act:

Job creation will be spurred by protecting us from carbon pollution. Companies in the private sector will find it more economically beneficial to invest in clean and renewable sources of energy. The infrastructure that comes along with building wind and solar farms such as a modern electric grid will drive even more job creation. Existing buildings and homes will be retrofitted by their owners to reduce energy costs. For every $150 billion invested in clean energy, 1.7 million new jobs will be created.

The science is irrefutable. Of the climate scientists actively publishing climate papers, 97.5 percent endorse the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. The average ice mass and volume of the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica have rapidly declined since the middle of the 20th century. The past decade was the warmest on record. If we take all of the carbon dioxide stored underground and release it into the atmosphere, we will have a different planet.

Our health is damaged by the pollution from burning fossil fuels. Reducing the amount of fossil fuels we burn will improve our quality of life and reduce our health care costs. Health issues correlated with fossil fuel burning include asthma, lung disease, lung cancer, elevated mercury levels and cardiovascular disease. Between 317,000 and 631,000 children are born in the United States each year with blood mercury levels high enough to reduce IQ scores and cause lifelong loss of intelligence.

Our national security will be strengthened. Despite talk about the need to reduce our oil dependence, we are still paying foreign countries hundreds of billions of dollars a year to send us oil. By regulating carbon pollution, we’ll be incentivizing fuel efficient cars and accelerating toward battery-powered vehicles. A recent study found reducing our emissions 80 percent by 2050 would cut Iran’s revenues from oil by more than $100 million a day and $1.8 trillion by 2050.

The world is watching us with bated breath. Negotiations among nations to jointly reduce greenhouse gas emissions have slowed to a snail’s crawl since the Copenhagen summit last December. Until we’ve got a piece of legislation passed to fuel these talks by placing a declining cap on emissions and with funding to prevent deforestation, adaptation and mitigation assistance, no one is convinced the United States is actually at the table.

On Friday, there’s a Clean Energy Town Hall with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) at 2 p.m. in Stamp Student Union’s Benjamin Banneker Room. It’s conveniently the day after Earth Day and right before the climate legislation is set to be introduced, so you should come. If you’re still unimpressed, Friday is also William Shakespeare’s birthday — and John Cena’s. There, that should cover everyone. It has to.

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

April 14, 2010

Diamondback Staff Editorial: Support Ecohouse

Filed under: environment,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 1:21 am
Tags: , ,

There was unfortunate news yesterday that the university was cutting its Ecohouse program, which was a sustainable living and learning program for students.  The Diamondback’s Staff Editorial today makes a solid case for the university to place greater priority on making Ecohouse work.  I’m posting it below.

Staff editorial: Betting on the House

In the midst of budget cuts, furloughs, class eliminations, resource reallocations and department mergers, it might seem that shutting down EcoHouse — a living and learning program based in New Leonardtown that educates students on sustainable living — is just another unavoidable cut.

But when a university has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2050, prioritizes erecting LEED-certified buildings and boasts being open to green initiatives, it seems counterproductive and hypocritical to cut one of the few programs that teaches students how to live sustainably and reduce their personal carbon footprint.

In some ways, the program was doomed from the start. It fell under both the agriculture and natural resources school and the Resident Life Department, and neither had the ultimate responsibility to fund, promote or support the program. EcoHouse officials said the majority of their advertising was online-only. They sent out e-mails and ran a website, but did not have the time or resources to go speak to students in classrooms, at environmental student group meetings or at Resident Life housing meetings. This means EcoHouse was missing crucial elements necessary for success: effective marketing, a constant source of funding and institutional support. It wasn’t just low enrollment that caused the program to retreat into hibernation.

That doesn’t excuse students from blame. The program has enrolled 63 students during the past three years — well below the 75 students per year most university living and learning programs host. And it’s hard to justify maintaining a program that doesn’t have high student interest.

Dean for Undergraduate Studies Donna Hamilton, who also serves as chairwoman of the committee that oversees living and learning programs, said resources are allocated based on perceived student interest. And when resources are slim, it’s tough to keep programs open when they just aren’t attracting enough students.

“Low-enrollment programs are difficult to support,” Hamilton said. “Otherwise, we have students coming to us with things that they want, and we can’t fund them.”

Typically, living and learning programs start slowly. Hamilton noted that College Park Scholars, which now boasts 14 programs with enrollment of about 75 students each, started off much smaller, with only four programs and far fewer students. EcoHouse wasn’t unique in its inability to spur rapid growth. It was just never given a fighting chance.

As far as student interest is concerned, the students who lived in the New Leonardtown community said they got a lot out of the experience: They tended a community garden and took EcoHouse classes on building sustainable communities. The take-away lessons of the EcoHouse are life-long. Students are taught to rethink the way they use water, re-evaluate the merits of buying locally produced or organic food, encouraged to experiment with different dietary options such as vegetarianism or veganism, inspired to ditch their cars for bikes and reminded how much energy can be saved by simply turning off the lights or lowering the thermostat.

EcoHouse won’t be reinstated without university support. Although the program may have to jump through hoops to come back, the university shouldn’t make it. Administrators should be offering solutions, options and resources to reinstate EcoHouse and should then ensure the program is getting the student exposure it needs.

If the university is serious about reducing its environmental impact, teaching students the basics of sustainable living is a good place to start.


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