College Students: Check Yourself Before You Wreck the Economy

by Jackie Moreau on November 2, 2011

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College students enticed by the environmental activist movement should give serious consideration to the consequences of their actions before jumping on this bandwagon.  This unsettling epiphany came to me as I read EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s recent remarks condemning the coal industry at a Sierra Club-hosted event at Howard University.  Her speech incited students to join the green ranks of the Sierra Student Coalition’s “Campuses Beyond Coal” initiative, which aims to eliminate campus-owned coal plants in a move to go “beyond coal” and onto “100% clean energy solutions.”  Whether students recognize it or not, they do not live in a bubble and their university is not isolated from the community in which it is embedded.  Students who support this cause must be held accountable for destroying the livelihoods of working people of that community and the economic opportunity for future generations that industries like the coal industry afford.

“In their (the coal industry) entire 50, 60, 70 years… even 30…they never found the time or the reason to clean up their act.  They’re literally on life support.  And the people that are keeping them on life support are all of us”, Jackson declared to Howard University’s students.  Jackson’s reproach for the coal industry is a blatant move to invoke students to finally purge themselves of this “dirty” energy. However, as Rep. David B. McKinley (R-WV) points out in his response to Jackson’s bombast, the coal industry not only provides stable employment, but also supplies a reliable source of energy that allows the public to live comfortably at a low cost:

The coal industry is on ‘life support’ for one reason only:  Lisa Jackson and Barack Obama.  It takes a lot of gall to sit there in her cushy Washington office – lighted by coal, in a building constructed with coal ash – handing down these job-killing regulations, and then turn around and claim the coal industry owes her a favor.  It is now unmistakably clear to me that Lisa Jackson’s regulations are not intended to simply strike a proper balance between industry and the environment; rather, the hostility conveyed in her attacks betrays a radical ideologue who believes the folks who mine coal, burn coal and recycle its ash are little better than criminals, and that the government needs to bankrupt the coal industry as the president infamously suggested as a candidate.  This administration has zero credibility on jobs, or public health for that matter.

An article in the Kansas City Star mentions another attempt by Jackson to coerce youth to “quit coal.”  Renee Schoof writes on a conference between Jackson and college environmental activists.  Jackson beckoned, “It’s so important that your voices be heard, that campuses that are supposed to be teaching people aren’t meanwhile polluting the surrounding community with mercury and costing the children a few IQ points because of the need to generate power.  It’s simply not fair.”

Fairness is obviously an ideal that Jackson has a feeble grasp on when she makes such propagandist statements that have enormous implications.  According to EPA, mercury emissions from U.S. coal fired fleet only threatens a subset of a supposed population of pregnant, subsistence consumers of self-caught fish at inland freshwater bodies. The EPA doesn’t identify any actual victims; instead, it hypothesizes that such a population exists. Moreover, EPA’s own data indicates that even the worst case scenario—the 99th percentile of pregnant fisherwomen consumers, who eat 140 kilograms a year of self-caught fish, exclusively from the 99th percentile most contaminated waterways—would subject their babies to a 1.1 point loss in IQ attributable to U.S. power plants. Again, it’s highly unlikely such a person even exists. Yet Administrator Jackson would have college students believe that “the children” of the “surrounding community” are losing “a few IQ points.” This is an untenable assertion.

Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said that there are about 60 schools with central coal-fired heating and cooling plants, and so far 17 have agreed to phase out coal.  The students cited in this article who have chosen to advocate against coal are ironically from leading coal-consuming and producing states such as Georgia, Kentucky, and Indiana.  Do they realize that their support for this campaign against coal goes beyond campuses?  Schoff’s article ends with a bizarre quote from Hitt that draws attention to the distortion of this student-led campaign: “They’re (students) showing that even if there’s no leadership in Washington, they can get things done on the campuses.  It also builds a sophisticated generation of new energy leaders.”  If these are America’s future class of “sophisticated energy leaders”, we’re going to be in the Great Recession longer than expected.

As a recent college graduate, I’ve experienced this campus crusade of green extremism within my alma mater, which unfortunately is one of the 17 schools that have agreed to eventually abandon coal.  I’ve witnessed these student groups who will who politely ask a professor for only a few minutes to speak to the class about their benevolent cause.  Hoping to earn signatures for petitions against coal, their presentation rang with moral responsibility.  As the clip board was passed around from student to student, I noticed that I was nearly the only one not to endorse the anti-coal mission. It seemed as though the students weren’t even emotionally affected, but rather lent their signatures with a “benefit-of-the-doubt” attitude.

I fear that this is the norm for most students who are either not informed or misinformed about the implications their signatures foster.  Generally, college life facilitates a utopia for its students until they graduate and need to fend for themselves in the real world.  And with a college degree, chances are they won’t be the ones looking for work at a coal plant or mine.  The reality is, however, not everyone chooses to earn a college degree.  Some youths will end up doing manual unskilled/skilled labor as their support system.  80,000 Americans are employed by the US coal mining industry.  After college students have graduated and gone on to pursue their futures of promise, many of them will leave the community surrounding their college in which they have no stake in, but the effect of their support lent by a signature could be branded on that community forever.

To my student-peers: take heed in what you choose to support; the community surrounding your college campus will have to live with the lack of opportunity left for them after you leave.

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jessica November 11, 2011 at 10:51 am

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