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May 05, 2010

UNC Says No to Coal

Here's a report from Deputy Conservation Director Bruce Nilles about Tuesday's commitment by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to stop burning coal to heat and power the campus within a decade.

Yesterday, before a crowd of fired-up student coal fighters and a bank of cameras UNC's Chancellor Thorp announced that "coal cars pulling up ... to the plant [is] not particularly good symbolism for a university that teaches people about climate change and the frontiers of energy research" and that the University was phasing out coal use.

There's Chancellor Thorp at the lectern, and behind him, from left, is me; Tim Toben, chair of the energy task force; and student leader Stewart Boss. (Photo by Olga Grlic, chair of the Club's Orange-Chatham Group)

Unc-1

Last fall Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign and Sierra Student Coalition kicked off our campaign to end coal use at the 60 campuses with on-site coal plants and build up the student movement to help us wrestle the coal industry to the ground. We began by dispatching a dozen Green Corps organizers to campuses around the country, including Laura Stevens to UNC.

In response to our first overture requesting the University to acknowledge the problem of coal burning and agree to a pain-free and coal-free path, the chancellor said we would be better directing our attention at other campuses that were doing less on sustainability. With guidance from Laura and North Carolina Chapter Director Molly Diggins, the students ramped up the campaign, brought Dr. Jim Hansen to campus for a rally, and held a series of forums and movie showings to let the chancellor know they were not going away. The students made the coal plant a major issue on campus, in a respectful but forceful way.

Three months ago, the chancellor reversed his position, and agreed to appoint a taskforce of students, faculty, and Molly Diggins to advise him. Last week the taskforce issued its interim recommendations, including that the university should end coal use no later than 2020, with a goal of 2015, and phase out coal mined with mountaintop removal as soon as possible.

This was a remarkable development, as this particular plant was built in 1992, had another 20 years left of its useful life, and is still being paid for. The plant has also won EPA awards for its co-generation efficiency.

To his enormous credit Chancellor Thorp jumped at the opportunity to get back into a leadership position and agreed to each of the interim recommendations and convened a press conference yesterday announcing the coal-free commitment before students left town for the summer. (Additional recommendations on energy efficiency are coming in the fall).

Yesterday I attended that press conference with chancellor, our student leader Stewart Boss (a freshman!), along with Molly Diggins and the other student activists who helped make all of this possible.

Looking forward to toppling the rest of the campus coal plants quickly!

Bruce

Congratulations all! You can read more here.

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