Chancellor Thorp Announces Task Force to Address Energy at UNC

January 28, 2010 at 8:18 pm Leave a comment

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp announced today that he is assigning a task force to address energy use at UNC.  Task force members will include students, faculty, administrators, alumni, and Director of the Sierra Club North Carolina Chapter, Molly Diggins.

Students and allies of the Sierra Club Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign see the best way that the task force can address energy issues is for UNC to stop burning the more than 100,000 tons of coal burned annually in the university owned and operated cogeneration plant. The plant is responsible for emitting toxic chemicals such as mercury, arsenic, and lead, as well as the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of over 55,000 standard passenger vehicles, making it the single largest source of air pollution in Orange County.  In 2007 burning coal was responsible for 63% of campus greenhouse gas emissions.

Gigi Nemeroff, freshman and student leader of the Sierra Club Coal-Free Campus Campaign at UNC stated, “I am very happy to hear that UNC is moving in the right direction and I hope to see a complete elimination of coal use on campus so that we can maintain our status as a leader in sustainability and leave this world a little cleaner—not dirtier—for future generations.”

“I think that this is a positive move.  Coal is the number one contributor to CO2 emissions, and because of global warming the polar ice caps are cracking and the ice is dropping into the ocean, and sea level is rising, fast, much faster than predicted by the IPPC, so moving away from coal is a very urgent issue. Not to mention that moment that we stop using coal at UNC we will be stopping at least some of the horror of coal mining,” said Dr. José Rial, Professor of the Department of Geological Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Since the campaign launch in September,  students of Carolina turned out by the dozens to volunteer on the campaign and gather 1,900 petitions to the Chancellor.  A coalition of 40 faculty members, eight student organizations, and the mayor of Chapel Hill, Mark Kleinschmidt, joined the students in calling for a move past coal to clean energy.

Mayor Kleinschmidt noted, “I could not be more thrilled to hear my alma mater announce this Clean Energy Task Force.  I look forward to working with the University to make their move completely off of coal possible.”

“Coal is our single dirtiest fuel source, and should not be part of the fuel mix at our state’s flagship university. The Sierra Club applauds Chancellor Thorp’s leadership on this issue, and looks forward to working with the Chancellor, UNC students and faculty ,and the community to build a clean and sustainable future at Carolina,” stated Molly Diggins.

Chancellor Thorp’s announcement comes on the heels of a decision made public earlier this month by Cornell University to end coal use on campus by 2011. These schools and the handful of others who have made the switch from coal to cleaner energy are leading the way in what could be a growing coal-free trend in higher education. Increasing pressure from students who want cleaner campuses, and a growing realization among university administrators that a continued dependence on coal hinders progress towards climate goals has the potential to dramatically change the energy future on campuses nationwide.

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