January 26, 2009: Student Activists Demand Alternative Energies on Campus

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Burning Coal on Campus is Hazardous to Student Health and the Commonwealth

LEXINGTON, Ky: Tuesday, an anonymous group of students from the University of Kentucky hung a banner from a parking structure near Rose Street to protest the university’s use of coal power on campus. The banner, reading “COAL: A Tradition of Oppression. STUDENTS: Let’s Change Our Legacy”, included a reproduction of the familiar UK symbol, with a burning smokestack between the letters instead of the usual Memorial Hall steeple.

Deemed the “midnight strike force” by local news sources, the students are fueling a campaign to move the university beyond the “outdated” technology of coal power and in the direction of cleaner energies. One of the students, an economics and environmental studies senior, said, “You can’t argue facts. Coal is a finite resource and the shift to alternative energies has to begin immediately. Kentucky must realize its potential to be progressive and enterprising in the country’s transition toward environmental awareness.”

The students’ use of the word “oppression” alludes to the detrimental effects of coal not only on the environment, but on the miners and communities in coal-mining regions of the state. An estimated 12,000 coal miners have died from black lung in the past decade, and their families are equally affected. The real tragedy, though, lies in mountain top removal (MTR) coal mining, a practice that more and more coal companies are using to extract coal at a lower cost. MTR employs explosives to decapitate mountains, and the leftover waste is deposited in surrounding valleys. The chemicals and residue bury and contaminate freshwater streams, thus poisoning the water supply for surrounding communities and devastating local ecosystems.

While the university, directly, does not deal in MTR coal, Kentucky Utilities provides a significant portion of the campus’s power, and is a known distributor of energy derived from the controversial method.

“The University of Kentucky is the flagship university of the state, and as such, sets the example for the rest of Kentucky. Any change we can make toward cleaner energy and the diversification of jobs and economies will affect the entire Appalachian region drastically, and for the better. This change is one that can’t wait,” said an Appalachian Studies junior.

It seems momentum has not died from the announcement last semester that the new Wildcat Coal Lodge would be endorsed by the coal industry. Tuesday’s banner was one of a series that has hung on campus since October, indicating that the students have not forgotten President Todd’s decision, and that they still worry for the future of their school’s energy and integrity.


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