Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Letter on Penn State's Coal Plant to the Board of Trustees

Recently, I was alerted that the Board of Trustees removed discussion of the coal plant from their meeting. It prevented public comment. As a concerned person, I wrote them the following letter:

To the Board of Trustees,

It has recently come to my attention that the Board of Trustees were to discuss the energy future of Penn State University at its most recent meeting. Specifically, the coal plant's future was on the agenda. From the reports I have from attendees, it was absent. I do not include myself among the conspirators who think that Penn State and Massey Energy definitely colluded to obstruct and obfuscate the agenda, but it is most unfortunate that the UP coal plant's future was removed from the agenda the morning of the meeting. Given that interested and concerned groups lost their possible voice at that meeting, I would like to ensure that you understand my position.

In what follows, I speak as the founder and serving president of Environment-Ecology-Education in the College of Education, the co-host of a WKPS The Lion radio show called Sustainability Now, last year's Assistant to the Director of the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium, and the emcee for Penn State's first Student Sustainability Summit. I speak for none the organizations nor the show but as someone steeped in the sustainability movement who is concerned about his own impact on his own community and his sad involvement with the mandated ecocide and pollution that our university's cost of doing business does.

Silence and remove the coal plant as soon as possible. Coal, from its extraction, to its byproducts via extraction, to its combustion, to its scrubbing, and to its scrubber cleaning destroys life. It is a powerfull anti-biotic - a destroyer of life - that serves to enrich few people lavishly, support an unsustainable and ecologically crippling way of life for many more, and poisons poor people and their water systems. The cascading effects spread. One need only look at the economic, social, and ecological corrosion of the Tennessee Valley Authority disaster or the decades-long legacy of mountain top removal in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or Kentucky. How fortunate and easy it has been that we at the lavishly equipped Pennsylvania State University have been able to define those people, their traditions and customs and ways of being, their watersheds, and the habitat that depends on those waterways as economic externalities. And I have said nothing of climate change, the study of which our university stands as a shining beacon.

Perhaps now, with all of the attention on the Gulf oil disaster, the methane gas disaster at the Upper Big Branch Mine, and the continued small disasters regarding drilling in the Marcellus Shale, Penn State will begin moving more ethically and responsibly regarding human welfare and the environment regarding its energy "needs." I understand that Penn State has been able to negotiate an environmental assessment of its coal purchasing. This is a noble first step and a good intention. Forgive me if I remain skeptical of its impact and am niggled by the statement, "The road to hell is laid with good intentions." Were we to be extracting coal from the Purdue Mountain to the west, Mount Nittany, the Tussey Ridge, and the Seven Mountains, I don't think we would have Penn State here and our good intentions would be too little to late.

I apologize for the polemic tone of this letter but have found that our turtle's pace could be quicker and that we could do more to reduce our energy use. The Campus Sustainability Office is doing marvelous things with behavior, curriculum is changing, and perhaps more than anything, facilities and operations under Steve Maruszewski and Al Matyasovsky have been doing amazing things. Now is the time to pony up and recognize that coal can't be clean and that we need to move away from it immediately. Too much of our collective health from the newt to the walrus to me need it.

Peter Buckland


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