The Dernogalizer

September 20, 2010

Going for gold: The challenge of building green

My opinion column on the University of Maryland and green building is out today.   I’ve cross-posted it below, enjoy!

I want to congratulate the university and student activists for their recent major accomplishments on the sustainability front. The 2009 Campus Carbon Footprint Report of our campus emissions recently came out and found that in 2009, the carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 26,394 metric tons, a 10.5 percent reduction from 2005. This means that the university is on pace to meet its goal of a 15 percent reduction by 2012.

When former university President Dan Mote signed the President’s Climate Commitment — which committed this campus to the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 — there was legitimate skepticism of how serious the administration would be in living up to their pledge. And although there have been some hiccups, since signing the commitment, the university has renovated buildings to make them more energy efficient, installed some solar panels around the campus and reduced solid waste emissions by 70 percent.

Just the other day, The Diamondback reported that Knight Hall became the first university-owned building to be certified with a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold rating, the second best LEED standard a building can obtain. Oakland Hall is likely to follow with a LEED-gold rating. What made these accomplishments even more impressive was the fact that the university’s existing green building standard — which was set in 2008 — is for all new campus buildings to be LEED-silver.

The university is setting a good precedent by going above its green building standard. Why? It’s not only the right thing to do, but it also isn’t significantly more expensive to build a legitimately low-impact structure than a lousy building. The real impact is on the energy savings the university receives for the next 50 years the building stands.

Here’s my message and challenge to the university administration. As much fun as it is to criticize you when you do something wrong, you deserve praise for getting emissions and these two buildings right. But there is still so much more to do.

The university’s Facilities Master Plan calls for the construction of 40 new buildings. With this ambitious plan there are a lot of environmental issues to resolve, many of which deal with both the preservation of green space and the environmental impact of each building. The campus power plant and our purchased electricity made up 64 percent of campus carbon dioxide emissions in 2009. A major challenge to the university continuing to make progress on its Climate Action Plan is how they add these buildings and keep emissions down.

Part of the answer means the university can’t just meet the existing campus standard of LEED-silver. New buildings will have to go above and beyond. Based off what we’ve seen from Knight Hall and Oakland Hall, why not?

The university has a committee updating its existing Facilities Master Plan, chaired by Facilities Management Director Frank Brewer. The final draft is expected to be finished by next June. If Brewer wants to keep the university on the right path, he needs to push the envelope and propose to upgrade the university’s green building standards for new construction. In an interview with the College Park Patch about the plan, Brewer stated he wanted to see the campus become carbon neutral by 2050. “It’s a pretty bold statement, but that’s the goal,” Brewer said. Let’s back up that statement with action. Be bold, and go for gold.

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

May 5, 2010

University of Maryland’s Summer Transit Experiment Makes No Sense

Filed under: transportation,University of Maryland — Matt Dernoga @ 11:48 pm
Tags: , ,

Yesterday I attended a student forum with members of the University of Maryland’s administration regarding plans for a pilot test this summer where our main road “Campus Drive” will be closed to both passenger vehicles and transit minus emergency vehicles and a couple of campus connector Shuttle-UM buses.  If the pilot is successful, this transit idea could become a mainstay in a couple of years.

Closing Campus Drive to cars is a fine idea in my view, but only because that would allow the buses to get around quicker.  As someone who has missed a Shuttle-UM bus on its way to our metro station 1.5 miles away, and then beaten it on my legs to the station, our buses would greatly benefit from less traffic on Campus Drive.  I could see mobility for students around campus and around College Park significantly improving if we closed off Campus Drive to cars, but allowed buses.  It would also shorten travel times for the Metro buses that pass through the heart of campus.

I just don’t under stand how banning both buses and cars improves at all on the situation.  Before they were both clogging up campus drive, now they’re both going to clog some side roads on the outside of campus.  All we’ve done is abandoned transit at the center of campus, which not only sucks in the near-term, but probably jeopardizes the likelihood of the Purple Line using the Campus Drive alignment if the road ends up being permanently closed after this pilot.

The funny thing is, all that this forum convinced me is the administrators don’t understand what this does either, or why they’re doing it.  At least, they wouldn’t admit to us why they were actually doing it.  Most of students questions were answered in five words or less, involve some combination of the words “i don’t know” and “okay”.  It was like they weren’t even trying to manage this from a PR perspective, which is unusual for them.

Here is a Diamondback article about the event, and the Washington Post has an article out on the issue today.  This excerpt from the Diamondback piece says it all…

Jesse Yurow, a junior environmental science and policy major, said the program doesn’t fit in with two key passages in the plan: “maximize use of alternatives to driving to campus” and “improve the campus’s integration into the regional transit system network.

Brewer’s response?

“OK,” he said.

April 21, 2010

UMD for Clean Energy Hosting Ben Cardin Friday


CONTACT: Susan Sullam, 410-962-4436

April 21, 2010


Senator Urges Passage of Clean Energy Bill to Reduce Carbon Emissions

On Friday, April 23, U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) will address members of the University of Maryland for Clean Energy about the need for our nation to develop a clean energy policy that will “shift us away from dirty, unsafe fuels of the 19th Century to cleaner, safer fuels of the 21st Century.”

The Senator is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and has been a strong supporter of clean energy and climate change legislation.  He has co-sponsored the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, which would provide significant investment in the clean fuels, clean vehicles and public transportation. He also has co-sponsored the International Climate Change Investment Act, which promotes the economic leadership and competitiveness of clean energy.

  • WHAT: Senator Cardin to address members of University of Maryland for Clean Energy
  • WHEN: Friday, April 23 at 2 pm.
  • WHERE: University of Maryland College Park,

Stamp Student Union, Benjamin Banneker Room (2nd Floor)


Find out more about our event and our efforts on climate legislation here

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.

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


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.”,

March 30, 2010

Showdown: Maryland Environmental Law vs Corporate Lawmakers

There’s a another controversy brewing in Annapolis.  A suit by the University of Maryland’s environmental law clinic that accuses poultry giant Perdue Farms and a small Eastern Shore farmer of pollution has angered Annapolis lawmakers.  They are now threatening to hold up hundreds of thousands of dollars in the university’s budget.  I plan on penning an op-ed about this for next Tuesday, but first I wanted to re-post a great piece in the Baltimore Sun’s editorial page by Andy Green.

Make no mistake, the state Senate has done much more than express some idle curiosity about the University of Maryland’s law clinics. Budget language approved by the Senate this week includes a not-so-subtle message: Be careful who you let your law students represent.

The tactics have all the charm of what Sen. Jim Brochin calls “something straight out of communist China.” The University of Maryland School of Law is being ordered to produce a list of all the plaintiffs their students have represented over the past two years or lose $250,000 in funding.

And that’s the nicest version of the proposal. Delegates are considering a 5-year, $750,000 smack in the face.

What’s particularly galling is that the assault on the law school’s academic freedom and the independence of its fledgling lawyers is all because some students had the temerity to help some Eastern Shore residents and environmental groups go after polluters.

One might assume a lawsuit aimed at reducing pollution into a Pocomoke River tributary would be regarded as a good thing, but the one filed earlier this year on behalf of the Assateague Coastal Trust and the Waterkeeper Alliance names Perdue Farms as a defendant. Perdue is the nation’s third largest poultry company with $4.6 billion in sales — and a lot of political muscle in this state.

Chairman Jim Perdue has said publicly that he fears more such Clean Water Act enforcement lawsuits will be filed against Perdue growers and is making noises about moving some of his business out of state (as puzzling as that business strategy would seem as the federal Clean Water Act standards are national and lawyers to enforce them are known to exist beyond Maryland’s borders).

The proper response to such threats ought to be to tell Perdue that while the state is proud of what he and his family have accomplished, protecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and creeks from the harmful effects of nutrient-rich farm run-off (whether from chicken manure or sewage sludge used to fertilize crops) is just as important to this state’s economy as chicken processing.

No doubt if the Maryland law students were filing frivolous actions that had little chance in court, Perdue with its deep pockets and out-of-town lawyers would simply shrug and stomp them out. But the worry is clearly that the facts and the law are not on their side.

If lawmakers were genuinely curious about the law school clinics, they might have made a phone call before they started taking the school’s budget hostage. If they had, they’d discover the clinical law program is ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and that it provides an invaluable service as the largest provider of free legal advice to the state’s disadvantaged. It should be regarded with pride rather than suspicion; all Maryland law students are required to do some pro bono work on behalf of the community, a rarity in academia.

What’s the harm in providing a list of clients? Not every person who has sought legal representation — from the AIDS clinic patient to the homeowner seeking expert help to avoid foreclosure — wants that fact publicized for the whole world to see. You can bet lawmakers know that.

It’s no surprise that some legislators resent students from a taxpayer-supported school “stirring up trouble” in their districts. Legal aid often draws similar feelings when the rights of criminal suspects are vigorously defended. But this attempt to intimidate is not only misguided but potentially harmful to the school and its reputation. If Maryland truly wants to be regarded as a state with a knowledge-based economy, it ought not be seen foolishly embracing such blatant stupidity.

UMD for Clean Energy: Make East Campus a Beast Campus

We’ve already been asked several times where that title came from.  Consider us poetic.  Here at the University of Maryland, UMD for Clean Energy is organizing a major event on green development practices next Monday, April 5th.  Check out the background from our website on why we’re organizing.  Below is one of two blog hits we just received thanks to Rachel Hare, one of our members.  There’s also an op-ed I have out in our campus newspaper today about why we need to go all out on greening the East Campus development.  If you have friends in Maryland, let them know about this event! (more…)

March 23, 2010

Column on the Environmentally Destructive… University of Maryland Co-Sponsored…Tech Center in Charles County

Believe it or not, I wasn’t angry or bitter when I wrote this column in the Diamondback.

In Charles County, there’s a proposed development called Indian Head Science and Technology Park. This development will span 277 acres, all on forested land, including a chunk of land in Chapman State Park, which surrounds Mattawoman Creek. Mattawoman Creek is one of the most pristine, healthy streams that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. It’s also one of the premier fish nurseries on the East Coast. As part of the development, there are at least five planned road crossings of the stream valley, which the Army Corps of Engineers says is crucial to protect for the sake of the Mattawoman.

A big part of this industrial park development will be host to the Energetics Technology Center. The point of the center will be the research and development of explosives, propellants and pyrotechnics. A look at the center’s about page says it’s a spin-off of a similar center at this university. Scroll a little further down, and you’ll find this center is a collaboration of many of the same partners as the last one, including this university right smack at the top. The Tech Center’s brochure lists the university as a key partner in making this whole entity work.

We all come here to learn, but I don’t just mean in classes. We learn outside the classroom from the student groups we join, the friends we win and lose and most importantly from the mistakes we make. What about our university administration? What about university President Dan Mote, departing from his position in August after leading the university for more than a decade?

On the surface, Mote’s environmental record is admirable. He signed the President’s Climate Commitment and set in motion an action plan to reduce emissions, make buildings more energy efficient and increase the usage of renewable energy. But I think it’s all showmanship to bolster our image.

When students and faculty did a little digging, they found last year that the university was planning to relocate facilities from East Campus onto a 22.4-acre forested area known as the Wooded Hillock. We know how that ended: Despite the administration’s insistence that it was an appropriate sacrifice to cut down part of a forest because East Campus was greener than leprechauns with envy, the activists won the day.

In February, I listened to university alumnus Michael Martin talk about how when he was a student here 10 years ago, he was part of a fight to prevent the university from relocating greenhouses to wetlands by what is now Comcast Center. It was a story that shockingly paralleled the Wooded Hillock controversy, with the administration denying that the wetlands were environmentally sensitive, dragging its feet and eventually balking under the pressure.

It made me wonder when they decided to relocate facilities from East Campus, whether they remembered what had happened before. Didn’t they learn their lesson? It made me doubt the sincerity of the administration when they talk about the importance of environmental stewardship.

Dig a little beneath the surface once more, and you’ll find another pending local environmental catastrophe with our fingerprints all over the scene of the crime. If Mote was serious about sustainability, we’d never be in this partnership.

We all come here to learn. Mote came. He saw. He learned nothing.

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

February 24, 2010

UMD and College Park come to Agreement over Washington Post Plant, Hillock Saved

I had a post a couple of weeks ago about whether the University of Maryland and the City of College Park could reach consensus on the university’s purchase of the Washington Post Plant.

Here is what I wrote: “The environmental community in College Park has been on the edge of its seat since it was brought to light that the University of Maryland had made a bid for the abandoned Washington Post Plant in College Park.  The point of the purchase was for UMD to relocate its facilities from East Campus to the plant, so they could do their East Campus development.  This move would mean that the fight to save the Wooded Hillock, 9 acres of forest, would be won by the environmental activists advocating for its preservation.  However, the City is upset about this decision because of the lack of transparency that led up to it, along with the fact that College Park would lose tax revenue from UMD owning the plan since they’re a state institution, and thus tax exempt.  The Maryland Board of Public Works has to approve the purchase, and the approval is likely contingent on the support of the city.

So the question is, can UMD and the city agree to a PILOT(payment in lieu of taxes) where the university would compensate the city for some of all of its lost revenue?  I think that answer is yes because both parties badly want to see the East Campus development completed, and they won’t let something as petty as a few hundred thousand dollars get in the way of a 900 million dollar development that would generate a lot of tax revenue for the city, and graduate housing for the university.

The following is the letter the city council sent to the university after their meeting on Tuesday, and the response the university recently sent back.  It looks like they’re moving towards an agreement.

Dr. Mote Washing Post Letter


I recently received a new letter the city sent to the board of public works supporting the purchase.  The two parties came to an agreement.  Here is the letter.

The noteworthy environmental excerpt from the letter: “We are also pleased that UMCP has confirmed that, with the purchase of the Post Plant, the University has no plans to use any part of the wooded hillock area on campus for building sites, and is currently studying the best uses for this area that meet the expectations of the academic community”



and Match

University of Maryland gets Solar Panels

The Diamondback has an article out today about my university getting solar panels on the roof of its dining hall.  I’m re-posting it below.

New solar panels on Diner’s roof should save $1.7M annually

by Dana Cetrone

The Diner is going solar.

Twenty new solar panels that will be used to generate heat were installed on the roof of The Diner in North Campus last week — the latest step in a university plan to overhaul utilities in nine buildings to be more energy efficient.

The 20 solar panels are meant to generate one-third of The Diner’s hot water, which is used for cooking and washing dishes and hands, university officials said.

Although the projects included in the Energy Performance Contract will cost $20 million, Dining Services officials said in the end, the university will break even in costs because the money saved will be used to pay back the 10-year loan it received from a state program used to foot the construction bill.

“The solar panels are just a piece of the amazing energy saving puzzle we are so proud of,” Assistant Director of Facilities for Dining Services Greg Thompson said.

In line with the university’s long-term goal of reducing the carbon footprint of the campus to zero by 2050, the solar panel instillation comes on the heels of a slew of other green alterations being made to campus facilities.

According to the report issued on the project in October, the expected annual carbon reduction these alterations will provide is equal to the university planting about 20,700 trees every year.

This year, the university equipped high-rise dorms and other newly constructed buildings with water-conserving toilets, exchanged all lights on the campus with energy-efficient fixtures, replaced all air conditioning compressors and added five new exhaust hoods —used to moderate the amount of steam allowed to escape — onto building pipes .

“When completed, it is projected to save about $1.7 million annually in avoided energy costs — nearly 5 million kilowatt-hours and 2.5 million gallons of water,” Facilities’ Conservation Manager Susan Corry said.

The exhaust hoods alone have already saved 26,000 kilowatts per hour each since being installed in the last year, said Joe Mullineaux, senior associate director of Dining Services.

“The Energy-Saving Opportunity began about one year ago, and all upgrades to North Campus Diner will be completed by the end of the semester,” Mullineaux said.

Johnson Controls, the company responsible for installing all the new, green utilities, will be paid with money borrowed from the state through a program that offers up to $70 million in loans to government agencies to purchase construction equipment.

Solar panels are also expected to be installed on the roof of Cole Field House. They will be primarily used to power the Driskell Center — a center dedicated to studying and showcasing African Diaspora art and culture.

Project construction in other campus locations is expected to continue through April 2011. Looking to the future, facilities officials have said the university may expand the project to encompass six more buildings, including the Art-Sociology Building, the Plant Sciences Building and Easton Hall. But the South Campus Dining Hall will not see any new solar panels or other green equipment installed anytime soon.

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