By Rebekah Hinojosa, UNT student and Beyond Coal Campaign Organizer
On April 3rd, President V. Lane Rawlins of the University of North Texas (UNT) held a Q&A event called, “Really Let’s Talk.” The event allowed students to directly ask President Rawlins questions. Members of the UNT beyond coal campaign seized the opportunity to ask President “Stalling” Rawlins his reasoning for not committing to end UNT’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels.
One student asked, “President Rawlins, burning coal and natural gas pollutes our waterways. Why won’t you commit to move UNT beyond coal? Is it because UNT is in litigation with the electric company? Has the issue been resolved?”
President Rawlins replied, “The University is in litigation with the electric company. I’ve been advised by attorneys not talk about the status of the issue...”
Photo by Tyler Cleveland
As President Rawlins answered the student, I walked in with a 5ft by 4ft replica of the Gibbons Creek coal-fired power plant resembling the plant from which UNT receives 47% of its energy. The whole room turned and gawked at the three dimensional rendition as I carried it to the front of the room and sat in the sofa chair closest to Rawlins. No one could ignore me, not even the President. Rawlins turned towards me, “What do you have there?”
I stood up so that everyone could see me as I raised the coal plant high. “President Rawlins, World Water Day was on March 22nd. Did you know that Gibbons Creek Coal plant releases about 275 lbs of mercury per year? It only takes 1g of mercury to pollute a 20 acre lake. Mercury pollution can damage or cause neurological problems to a fetus. This is where UNT gets its energy. UNT should do the right thing and move beyond coal.” I handed President Rawlins a letter from the Beyond Coal campaign demanding that the university move off of coal and other fossil fuels.
Coal-fired power plants are one of the top contributors to mercury pollution in our waterways. The Gibbons Creek coal plant from which UNT currently gets its power releases 275 lbs. of mercury per year. This mercury gets into Texas’ fresh water. In the U.S.; 300,000 infants are born at-risk every year for developmental defects because of their mother's exposure to toxic mercury pollution. In addition, the Gibbons Creek coal plant releases 11,931 tons of sulfur dioxide which turns into sulfuric acid and 31,681 lbs. of hydrochloric acid, further contaminating Texas’ fresh water.
If UNT wants to live-up to its motto, “We Mean Green,” they should abandon the dirty energy of the past and move towards a clean energy future. At UNT it would only cost $9 per student per year for clean energy. Clean energy = inexpensive, realistic energy.