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March 20, 2014

Victory in Georgia: Students Continue to Make Progress Against Campus Coal Plants

Uga beyond coalI am thrilled for students at the University of Georgia: After more than four years of campaigning, gathering more than 5,000 signatures and 100 faculty endorsements, and a slew of community and campus events, the UGA Beyond Coal Campaign is seeing some serious results. Last week the UGA administration announced that the campus coal boiler will be replaced!

Students at UGA were among the first to bring the Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign to their campus. Their movement started with just a few students in the Fall of 2009 and grew exponentially, so much that hundreds of students, faculty and community members turned out to their first on campus rally. This inspiring group of students forged ahead through a change in campus administration and multiple negative outlooks to continually recruit new leaders who carried on the campaign each year.

I couldn't be happier for these inspiring young people. Their work has been tireless.

From panels of guest speakers, to nightly ghost tours of the campus coal plant, to movie screenings and ample press coverage, the UGA Beyond Coal students have strived to educate the campus about coal's health effects. They know burning coal contributes to increased heart disease and asthma rates, premature death and is also one of the biggest contributors to climate disruption. From the mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia, to the recent coal ash spills in North Carolina, coal is poisoning our air and water - even on college campuses.

The UGA students are not patting themselves on the back just yet - their push now is to get the school's administration to retire the coal boiler by 2018 and commit to clean energy for campus. This past year administrators began studying alternatives to burning coal on campus. Yet, even during that time, the administration refused to speak openly about the need to retire the coal boiler.   

So the students made a bold move. They presented their Administration with two options: Announce the intent to replace the coal boiler and the students run a positive ad in local papers; or if the administration continued its silence, the students would run a negative ad in local papers and call out the administration on its lack of action.

You can imagine how thrilled the students were when the administration publicly stated, for the first time in four years, that the coal boiler must be replaced with a cleaner fuel source.

This welcome news comes at a time when we are pushing the entire state of Georgia to invest more in clean energy, and move away from the dirty fuels of the past. Georgia Power has announced it intends to make one of the biggest solar purchases in Southern history, as part of its future energy plan. UGA's leadership in moving beyond coal is another step in the right direction for the state.

But as I said, the students aren't resting now. They will continue to hold the administration to a strict timeline to retire the coal boiler by 2018 and switch to real clean energy solutions. You can help - tell UGA President Jere Morehead to move UGA beyond coal.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

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