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Eco-Action on Upcoming Penn State Energy Announcement

President Spanier confirmed that an announcement about the campus coal-burning steam plant will be made at this Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting. It is widely expected that the announcement will include a natural gas plant as a replacement. Penn State may claim this to be an environmentally considerate decision, but it is nothing of the sort.

Though natural gas has been proven to burn cleaner than coal, new evidence suggests through the life-cycle of the resource more green-house gasses are emitted than coal. Furthermore, the extraction of natural gas from Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale is damaging local communities, eco-systems and water supplies. If Penn State is considering the environmental impact of their decision as they claim to be, they’re certainly well aware of both of these facts. The question haunting this upcoming decision, then, is why our university would move so enthusiastically toward natural gas.

Penn State is influenced by a multitude of special industry interests littered throughout the administration, university, and Board of Trustees. Though such influences may direct the administration into thinking a natural gas plant is good for us, the fact remains that natural gas emits carbon into the atmosphere, damages local Pennsylvania communities, and is tied to volatile energy markets which no one can claim to predict 20 years down the road. Though the university will act as though they have made this decision in the interests of the student body, it remains at best a dangerous gamble. If Penn State wants to make a wise, safe and reliable long-term investment in energy, they should continue moving forward with renewable sources.

When Eco-Action members met with President Spanier last October, we agreed to create a student group to address emissions issues, populated by a diverse inclusion of environmental and energy-related clubs, professors and members of the administration. A first meeting with members of the administration was supposed to occur in November in order to develop this group. This meeting has yet to take place, despite the consistent efforts of Eco-Action on behalf of the student body. Penn State has explored the use of renewable energy in studies like the Wiley Wilson Report, and they have been in discussion with providers of responsible energy systems. Yet no tangible action has been taken by the University to develop these programs.

Penn State is known for its efforts toward sustainability, so why does the administration seem so determined to make energy a stain on our proud record, and a victory for the dirty natural gas industry? If they truly do have the interests of our university at heart, they will use tomorrow to take a step toward a sustainable future.

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