A commitment to reduce carbon emissions on campuses nation-wide is unlikely to be signed by President David L. Chicoine.
The American College and University President’s Climate Commitment seeks to reach carbon neutrality on college campuses and also promotes other initiatives such as reducing waste on campuses, purchasing energy-efficient appliances and requiring new buildings to meet LEED Silver standards, or “green” building designs.
As of April 22, 521 colleges and universities have signed the commitment, including the University of South Dakota, Black Hills State University, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and peer institutions: University of North Dakota, New Mexico State University, University of Idaho, University of Wyoming and Utah State University.
Bob Otterson, the Executive Assistant to the President, said although the President’s Climate Commitment has a lot of worthwhile goals, President Chicoine will probably not sign the commitment because SDSU burns coal to heat the campus.
“The president and I talked about the climate commitment in terms of whether or not the campus could continue to burn coal and yet abide by the spirit of the commitment, and I think that’s difficult,” said Otterson.
The decision to continue using coal is a financial one. Otterson said the market for coal is stable, making it easier for administrators to predict utility costs for the year as opposed to other energy sources such as natural gas, which has a more volatile market.
Otterson previously worked at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, N.D., which is about half the size of SDSU. A former colleague of his estimated that the college recently reduced its heating costs by $400,000 by switching from natural gas to coal, lessening the financial impact on students.
Andy Janes, the president of the Sierra Club and the person scheduled to present the commitment to the president’s office on April 23, agreed that the coal power plant would be the largest issue for the university to deal with under the commitment. He suggested, that SDSU should purchase all their energy from renewable sources. He also said the plant was an eyesore and a lot of people want to get rid of it.
As for other issues within the commitment, Otterson said the president is supportive of other elements, especially those that Project Sustainability at SDSU has already outlined as priorities.
The three areas of focus for Project Sustainability are expanding recycling, working with Aramark to purchase more local
see commitment food products and developing awareness about sustainability on both the SDSU campus and in the community, said Jane Hegland, the head of Project Sustainability at SDSU. Hegland presented the climate commitment to Chicoine over the winter but did not receive a signature.
Hegland said she feels the President’s Climate Commitment is important because the reduction of pollution and disposable materials are good ideas for everyone, whether or not a person believes in global warming.
The fact that SDSU is already working to implement some of the measures outlined by the climate commitment is reason for the president to sign the document, Janes said. In addition to the goals of Project Sustainability, SDSU is already committed to meeting LEED Silver standards with their buildings, and the campus is emphasizing public transportation through the walking campus model.
SDSU is also already researching bioenergy and biofuels as one of five Sun-Grant Universities in the nation. Signing the commitment would require SDSU to move towards renewable fuels and would provide good experience for these researchers to help SDSU move from coal power to renewable sources, said Janes.
Another selling point of the commitment is its flexibility. Janes said the plan is easily tailored to meet the needs of individual universities. For example, there is no concrete timeline for achieving climate neutrality; instead the commitment says that colleges need to “initiate the development of a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible.”
Even though financial concerns are one reason to continue using coal and not sign the climate commitment, Janes said SDSU could actually save money by following the requirements of the commitment. He said energy-efficient appliances would save money, and in the future, the government will require campuses to reduce their carbon emissions, so SDSU will save money if it implements the commitment guidelines now.
Due to many of these reasons, the Students’ Association is also supportive of the President’s Climate Commitment. Senators are discussing whether to send a recommendation to encourage the president to sign the commitment. They will vote on a resolution next week.
Both Hegland and Janes said they feel the commitment is attainable for SDSU.
“I think it is feasible,” said Janes. “I think reaching carbon neutrality will be hard, but I think it’s important for us to take that step.”
Hegland agreed. “Their goal is that by mid-century we’ll reduce green house gases by 80 percent. That’s not by next year or even a decade from now, but 40 years from now.”
In the end, despite being turned down once, Hegland is still hopeful.
“I’ve learned to never say never,” she said. “As more momentum picks up, the greater the possibility for change.”
#1.882550:3033446699.jpg:POWER2_sb.jpg:The central heating plant produces heat for 2,308,990 gross square feet of buildings around the SDSU campus.:Stephen Brua