GUEST COMMENTARY: Forsee's position on cap and trade is disappointment for many at MU

Monday, December 7, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:57 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 4, 2010

In the recent Columbia Daily Tribune article “Cap and Trade Bad for MU, Forsee says," it was revealed that University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee wrote a letter directly to federal lawmakers urging them to oppose comprehensive climate change legislation, or at least to “ensure that specific exemptions are included” for the biggest polluting energy sources, such as coal. 

As someone who has worked directly with hundreds of MU students on cleaner energy initiatives this fall, I have witnessed a lot of frustration and disappointment from students and faculty in response to Forsee’s letter, which inhibits strong and effective climate action and undermines imminent and necessary progress in moving toward clean energy at MU and across the nation.

While the article made it sound as if Forsee represented the views of the broader UM System, a closer look reveals that Forsee’s views more accurately represent those of our nation’s most polluting special interests. These views directly oppose the opinion of most students at MU and contradict previous promises made by Forsee’s own administration in regards to global warming and sustainability.

In Missouri, the “specific exemptions” Forsee requests would go directly toward maintaining an unfair advantage for dirty coal, which provides 85 percent of the state’s energy, rather than the clean energy initiatives laid forth in last year’s passage of the Missouri renewable electricity standard, best known as Proposition C. 

Although it has spent millions on ‘clean’ coal advertising, the coal industry has for years actively fought against cleaning up the existing coal fleet.  Meanwhile, from coal ash and mining to soot and carbon pollution, coal remains one of Missouri’s dirtiest businesses. It poses enormous costs on our health as well as significant environmental and social costs on our society, like the $62 billion in “hidden” costs that a recent National Research Council study attributed to coal in the US each year.

It is clear that the industry will not clean itself up; that is why strong regulations, including cap and trade, are vital to protect families and communities from coal’s dangerous side effects.

Strong regulations also put us on a path to cleaner technology that will boost economic growth, create jobs and protect the planet. In fact, successfully meeting Proposition C’s 15 percent renewable electricity standard is expected to save Missourians $331 million over the next 20 years, according to Renew Missouri

On the contrary, extended exemptions to Big Coal will only continue provide Big Coal with an unfair advantage and inhibit Missouri’s transition to existing clean, renewable energy solutions.

Certainly, there is evidence that MU is taking some encouraging steps in favor of clean energy and climate action. Within the last year, MU has been moving forward with plans to begin construction of a new biomass boiler next fall, has signed the President’s Climate Commitment, and has hired a sustainability coordinator. Just as encouraging, this semester was the vocalization of support by MU Chancellor Brady Deaton for student and faculty efforts to move the university beyond coal. 

However, MU has much to do still to transition to socially responsible energy sources, rapidly phase out the tons of dirty coal it burns each year, and to successfully follow through on its promise to become climate neutral. Forsee’s recent actions only threaten to hinder this urgent transition.

Forsee claimed that federal climate and energy legislation would be “bad for MU.” In reality, his letter was a huge misrepresentation of campus opinion and the facts around effectively transitioning to a cleaner energy future. 

Understandably, a lot of people at MU are incredibly disappointed and wondering why Forsee would suddenly speak out against an issue that MU has frequently claimed leadership on. I would like to remind Forsee that his job is to represent the interests of the students, faculty and staff of the UM system, not the special interests of the biggest polluters in our nation, like Big Coal. 

Ryan Doyle is a Sierra Club organizer with the Beyond Coal Campaign.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Ellis Smith December 7, 2009 | 6:52 a.m.

"I would like to remind Forsee that his job is to represent the interests of the students, faculty and staff of the UM System..."

Correct, but according to the System's own published enrollment data only 45% of the students are located at the Columbia campus. Maybe we should also hear from the majority of the students in UM System.

(Report Comment)
Mike Sykuta December 7, 2009 | 8:23 a.m.

Perhaps Mr. Doyle also needs to consider that he also does not represent all the students and faculty at MU and there are many on the campus who agree with Mr. Forsee's assessment. More importantly, Mr. Doyle suffers from a severely narrow-minded view that is as likely contrary with his own objectives as not.

First, Mr. Doyle seems to believe that the current cap-and-trade legislation is the only possible way of reducing green house gas emissions. Not only is that an obviously flawed view, it reflects the kind of "do whatever it takes now" attitude that more often results in severely negative unintended consequences.

Second, Mr. Doyle is disingenuous at best in suggesting Mr. Forsee reneged on his administration's promise (signing the American College and University President's Climate Commitment) to work toward reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Doyle's description of efforts underway reflects that promise in action.

However, Mr Forsee seems to understand that there is more than one way to achieve reduced greenhouse gas emissions and the proposed legislation may be a particularly onerous option. Failing to support bad legislation does not mean failure to honor his commitment. It would be nice if Mr. Doyle understood the difference.

While there may be much about the Forsee administration with which to disagree, Mr. Doyle has completely missed the mark with this one.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.