Campus Climate Challenge plans events, protests dirty energy

Dylan Tull

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When faced with the biggest environmental issues in recent memory, Whitman students are not known to remain silent.   Whitman’s Campus Climate Challenge (CCC) has had a history of being in the forefront of national environmental issues, and hopes to once again make Whitman an important presence in the fight against against coal exports and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The fight against these issues has been dubbed by Whitman activists as the Dirty Energy Campaign.

The Keystone XL pipeline is currently at the forefront of environmental politics across the nation, shaking up the world of Washington, D.C. The pipeline begins in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. The tar sands themselves are the dirtiest form of energy production in existence. Water is pumped into the ground to force the oil towards the surface, and then natural gas is used to heat turbines that release the oil.   Because of this, it is one of the most energy-intensive forms of acquiring fossil fuels.

A massive pipeline would be built from Montana to Texas to transport the oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, where it can then be shipped to China.

Students who are involved with environmental campaigns against the pipeline are organized and facilitated by the Sierra Student Coalition, unifying students’ goals.

Lauren Ressler, who is the Northwest regional organizer for the Sierra Student Coalition, commented on the issue.

“[The pipeline] is one the most catastrophic ideas that has been thought up in recent years,” she said.

To protest the tar sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline, Campus Climate Challenge began their Dirty Energy Campaign with signs to protest and took photos of their members with the signs.

“All of those got sent [to Washington, D.C.], along with a petition with hundreds of thousands of names on it, and all of those were presented to President Obama,” said sophomore Claire Meints, facilitator of the Dirty Energy Campaign.

Whitman’s efforts to pass last year’s Beyond Coal resolutions led the way for similar Beyond Coal Washington legislation. The Beyond Coal resolution states that Whitman students do not support coal and call for the phasing out of the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia, Washington. It also calls for a transition to clean energy and green jobs for the members of the Centralia community. Many other Washington campuses soon followed, and the Beyond Coal legislation was later passed in Washington State.

“Whitman was the first campus in Washington to pass [the Beyond Coal Resolutions], so we really started a movement of a lot of different schools passing those resolutions,” said Meints.

The Dirty Energy Campaign is additionally fighting the TransAlta exportation of coal. Their goal is to prevent coal-exporting facilities from being built in Washington State.

The issue is that there are coal companies proposing to build coal-exporting facilities outside of Longview and Bellingham; the coal would be mined in Montana and Wyoming and shipped by train across Washington, to then be shipped to China.

“Our goal this year is to prevent coal exporting facilities from being built in Washington State,” said sophomore Helen Angell, who is in charge of the Beyond Coal half of the Dirty Energy Campaign.

Each train would carry 20,000 lbs of coal, and six to ten trains would travel across Washington per day. According to Angell, coal is economically unsustainable, wouldn’t create many jobs, and would negatively effects neighborhoods and cities near the trains and the coal facilities. Health is a huge issue in the exportation of coal; there are increased rates of asthma in areas where coal trains travel.

“It’s also a health risk, because there is a lot of coal dust that comes off the trains that could cause a lot of pollution and health problems for people in Washington. Also, it would be shipped to China, and China does not have good regulation for burning coal,” said Angell.

This semester, Beyond Coal hopes to get 1,000 letters written by Whitman students and have them sent to Peter Goldmark, head of the Department of Natural Resources in Washington state.

Additionally, CCC organized an environmental open mic at the Whitman Interest House Community (IHC) block party, encouraging environmentally minded students to creatively express their opinions on these issues. Chocolate Tar Sands and other treats were served along with information on the issues to spread awareness.

Over Family Weekend, CCC plans to put on an event called Parents Power Past Coal.   CCC hopes to bring in a speaker from the Sierra Club and have parents contribute to CCC’s petition against the TransAlta exportation of coal.

Junior Danielle Broida, member of the Dirty Energy Campaign, has high expectations for the event.

“We are trying to spread awareness and education [about the Keystone XL pipeline and the coal exports],” she said.   “We are going to have a giant inflatable inhaler to show how dangerous coal is for human health, and basically spread awareness about what’s going on and try to get people to realize how dangerous this is.”

Ressler hopes that Whitman’s efforts this year will continue influencing legislation in Washington D.C.

“I would love to see Whitman lead the way again and be one of the first schools to pass another resolution or come out with a public statement saying this community does not support coal export, because I think those are the actions that lead the way and make the change that are going to get us off these dirty fossil fuel sources,” Ressler said.