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Columbia Missourian

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

By Ryan Doyle
December 7, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

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.

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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.