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October 28, 2011

Emboldened by Students Taking Action

Lisa Jackson and group
Weight of the world got you down? Stressed out by visions of exploding mountains, warming planets, and mounting to-do lists? Me too. Thankfully, I had a major ray of hope recently that I would love to share with you, in the hopes that it will lift your spirits as much as it lifted mine. Yesterday, I had the great privilege of joining 30 youth clean energy leaders when they met with Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson at Howard University in Washington, DC.

These students had come to DC as a culminating event in their campaign to hold 100 clean energy events at their colleges and universities in the month of October. From flash mobs to press conferences, these youth leaders have been working overtime to send a clear message - they want their campuses to move beyond coal, to 100% clean energy. Like me, many of these student's cited the devastation caused mountaintop removal coal mining as their first motivation for getting involved in helping move the nation beyond coal.

They've been making headlines and making a difference, and now they were bringing their message to the nation's top environmental official.

Administrator Lisa Jackson gave the students a warm reception. She talked to them about some of the accomplishments she's most proud of, including stronger mileage standards for cars and trucks, and reducing air pollution from coal-fired power plants across the eastern US.

She also talked about her big priorities moving forward, primarily finalizing long-overdue standards that will slash mercury pollution from our nation's biggest source - you guessed it, coal-fired power plants. She also told the students that the basic environmental protections we all take for granted are under attack, and that it's up to all of us to ensure we stop polluters from unraveling our basic clean air and water safeguards.

Yes, it was great to hear that these important health and safety protections are still a priority for the White House. What was even more inspiring were the stories of the students, who asked Jackson about youth engagement, the mercury standards, and the Keystone XL pipeline.

And after meeting with Jackson, the students went to a meeting at the White House. Here is how one student saw the day of action in Washington, DC:

Maura Friedman, University of Georgia.

Yesterday, 35 students from across the country, from the Midwest to the Southeast and everywhere in between, met with White House officials to discuss the work they've been doing within their campuses and communities and press administrators to stand with youth in their fight for public health.

Our first meeting was with Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She listened to the personal stories of students and took questions, confirming her commitment to those affected by pollution.

Addressing students working on Campuses Beyond Coal campaigns targeting on campus coal plants, Jackson said, "It's not fair when colleges that are supposed to be teaching people are costing local children IQ points," referring to mercury emissions.

At the White House, we met with Jon Carson, the Director of the Office of Public Engagement, and Ronnie Cho, White House Liaison to Young Americans. Students shared personal stories but also delved into the organizing we’ve engaged in to produce positive change.

Our exchanges were met with nods and notes; I felt heard. But I’m waiting to see if we were actually listened to - I'm waiting for action.

As a Southerner, I feel forgotten by environmental protections, but we’re on the frontline of the battle for public health. In Georgia alone there are 13 coal-fired plants, as well as two new proposed plants and a coal boiler on my campus at the University of Georgia.

Our health can't wait for the politics of public health to work itself out - we're sick from pollutants now. We need mercury safeguards from the EPA to curb the health costs of coal. The Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline needs to be rejected, lest we expose American families to oil spills and, in Lisa Jackson's own words, cut the nation in half.

--

Thank you to these youth leaders for being such an effective, strategic, and tireless voice for clean energy, and for moving our nation beyond coal. The Sierra Club is proud to stand with you.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. Photo by Javier Sierra. See more photos on the Sierra Club's Flickr Page.

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