Students from Washington University demonstrated their passion for campus sustainability and alternative energy on Tuesday, leading a protest that disrupted a National Coal Council meeting being held at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark.
In April, Washington University instituted its “Strategic plan for Environmentally Sustainable Operations,” which details the university’s sustainability goals and plans to meet the goals. Some of the goals include reducing carbon emissions without purchasing carbon offsets, building sustainably to achieve LEED standards, and fostering a culture of responsible use of resources by students, staff, and faculty.
Some students found the plan to be hypocritical because of the university’s affiliation with “big coal.” Two members of the Board of Trustees are Gregory Boyce, CEO of Peabody Coal and Steven Leer, CEO of Arch Coal.
Peabody Coal, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, has long been considered an environmental offender. They actively opposed the Clean Air Act of 1970 and Clean Air Act amendments in 1990, and spent 5 million dollars last year to lobby against prospective climate legislation. Arch Coal, the second largest coal provider in the US, has been profiting from obtaining coal via the method of mining known as mountaintop removal. A highly controversial method of mining, mountaintop removal consists of removing the summits of mountains, or hills, to gain easier access to seams of coal just below the surface. Besides altering the landscape, studies on mountaintop removal have revealed significant detrimental effects on the environment such as stream pollution and reduction of biodiversity. Mountaintop removal is also detrimental to human health due to the threat of exposure to airborne toxins and metals released into the atmosphere from coal dust.
The author of a staff editorial published February 7, 2011 in the online version of “Student Life” stated, “We find it patronizing that Washington University would ask us to sign a pledge for sustainable actions when its most powerful governing body does not seem to prioritize sustainability…We also sincerely hope that, in keeping with the spirit of this pledge, students will direct activism at Washington University’s continued investment of resources in research on coal-based technologies—resources that, we feel, would be better directed at research that seeks to discover and implement new energy sources that do not harm our environment.”
Keeping in the spirit of their pledge, on Tuesday students from the University’s Green Action group and Missourians Organized for Reform and Empowerment directed their activism and opposition towards the National Coal Council during a meeting intended to review an ongoing study on the use of Carbon Capture and Sequestration technologies.
Students and community members marched into the meeting being held at the St. Louis Hilton carrying a banner that stated “Coal is Never Clean” and sang “Clean Coal is a Dirty Lie.” The students were peacefully escorted from the meeting by two officers with the Metropolitan St. Louis Police Department. Some returned to classes, while others chose to continue their protest outside the hotel, conveying their message through communication with the public and media outlets.
After the disturbance, The National Coal Council chose to cancel the meeting.