Boilermakers Living Up to their Name at Purdue
There's a sad irony in the fact that Purdue University's intercollegiate athletic teams are known as the Boilermakers.
Flying in the face of a nationwide trend to wean our college campuses off coal, Indiana environmental officials have given a tentative thumbs-up to Purdue's plans for a brand new coal-fired boiler to produce steam for campus heating needs—the only new proposed campus coal boiler in the country.
As soon as they got wind of the plan, the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) at Purdue and the Sierra Club's Hoosier Chapter sprang into action, organizing Purdue students, faculty, and alumni to oppose it. That's physics professor Ephraim Fischbach, above, speaking out against the new boiler. Below, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign organizer James Gignac at a press conference at Cumberland Elementary School in West Lafayette, where Purdue is located.
SSC organizer Alexis Boxer, below left, says many locals were completely unaware of the university's plans. "We feel that people in West Lafayette and other communities should have a say about this because it's going to affect them for decades to come. Purdue has the ability to use their innovation to be a leader. They don't have to use coal. This is a chance for them to prove that they are leading the way with their engineering school to do great things."
With help from Beyond Coal Midwest representative Nachy Kanfer, above right, the Purdue SSC is working with other student groups like the Boiler Green Initiative to do public outreach like tabling and passing out flyers on campus. SSC and chapter activists have also contacted university officials and met with Purdue's sustainability coordinator and Vice-President for External Relations.
When the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) held a public meeting in West Lafayette in May about Purdue's request for an air permit, SSC and chapter activists were there with the Hoosier Environmental Council and other environmental groups to talk about alternatives to coal-powered energy. Below, Purdue alumnus Gerry VanHorn makes his case against the new boiler to the IDEM panel.
"Purdue has heard our message loud and clear," says Kanfer. "The public is not going to accept a new coal boiler, because any plan to build a new coal boiler is financially and environmentally indefensible."
Below, Hoosier Chapter volunteer Larry Davis presents documentation about boiler inefficiency to the IDEM panel.
Steve Francis, Co-Chair of the Hoosier Chapter, says it doesn't make sense for Purdue to build a new boiler that is more expensive and more polluting than other options. "If Purdue pushes forward with this, it's proving that it's stuck in the past and abandoning its commitment to innovation and leadership in the energy field."
Kanfer says the university has thus far responded with stonewalling and a lack of interest in any dialogue.
"The university has framed itself as a leader and innovator, but building a new coal boiler is disabusing the world of that notion," says Boxer. "It's irresponsible of them to disregard the wishes of the campus and the community of West Lafayette, which have been vocal about their preference for clean energy. A new coal boiler would negatively affect the whole community for decades to come, but the university hasn't considered these implications."
On July 16, IDEM informed the university that it has approved the air permit renewal Purdue needs to proceed with the project.
Boxer says the SSC's Campuses Beyond Coal program will be organizing student actions against the permit. "We're going to fight this until they break ground."
Click here to help the Sierra Club and the SSC persuade Purdue that it doesn't want to be the only institution of higher learning in the country building a new coal boiler on its campus.
All photos by Brent Drinkut, courtesy of the Lafayette Journal & Courier, except photos of Alexis Boxer and Nachy Kanfer.