Students, faculty have mixed opinions of Forsee letter

Thursday, December 3, 2009 | 10:13 p.m. CST; updated 10:20 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 3, 2009
Mandy Sutherland leads a chant, "Forsee lacks foresight," during a protest against University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee's stance on cap and trade legislation. Forsee sent a letter earlier this week in opposition to federal climate change legislation. Protesters demonstrated on Thursday outside of University Hall.

COLUMBIA — Students and faculty voiced both support and opposition Thursday to a letter UM System President Gary Forsee wrote Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer urging him to oppose two "Clean Energy" bills.

The letter was written in November and opposed a House resolution and a Senate bill because they would have a "detrimental impact" on the University of Missouri System. In the letter, Forsee cited concerns the legislation could cost the university between $5 million and $8 million. Some critics have said this contradicts Forsee's previous support of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment petition.


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According to a document provided by MU spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken, these figures were generated based on information from the Energy Information Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. The university's worst-case scenario projected the legislation could cost the school $6.7 million, with a 20 percent margin of error.

“We urge you to oppose these bills or ensure that specific exemptions are included,” Forsee wrote in his letter.

About 35 protesters gathered outside University Hall, where the system offices are located, in opposition to Forsee’s stance on the legislation.

“He ... used the word 'we,'” said MU junior Tyler Hutcherson, a member of Coal Free Mizzou who disagrees with Forsee. “I’m definitely not a part of that ‘we.'”

Jan Weaver, director of MU's Environmental Studies program, said MU has an important role to play in making the state more carbon-neutral.

Weaver said Forsee raised legitimate concerns about the budget in his letter, but she does not think the university should base its actions on a worst-case scenario.

"It would be reasonable to ask for a best-case scenario as well," she said.

About 10 MU students who support Forsee's stance on the legislation counter-protested, citing concerns that the proposed bill could ultimately increase students' tuition.

"We're not like anti-environment, it's just ... the cost far outweighs the benefits with this bill," MU senior Eric Hobbs said. "The university is a business, and they're not just going to take a hit in profits."

Gov. Jay Nixon announced in January a budget agreement for fiscal year 2010 under which Missouri students would be protected from tuition increases, and higher education institutions would receive necessary funding, according to the governor's Web site. He proposed last month to freeze tuition again.

Nixon's office could not be reached for comment.

MU sophomore Megan Roberts, who agrees with Forsee's stance, said she would like to see an economic model implemented that rewards companies for lowering carbon dioxide output as opposed to legislation that forces them to.

"I believe we should give tax credits to companies that invest in alternative energy research," she said.

One piece of energy legislation, House Resolution 2454, or the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, passed the House in June and is awaiting a Senate vote.

According to a bill summary by the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the legislation currently includes the following measures:

  • Require electric utilities to satisfy 20 percent of their electricity demand through renewable energy sources and energy efficiency by 2020.
  • Invest in clean energy technologies and energy efficiency, including $90 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency, $20 billion in electric vehicles and other advanced technologies, $60 billion in carbon capture and sequestration, as well as $20 billion in "basic" research and development.
  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions from major U.S. sources by 17 percent by 2020.

According to the Committee on Energy and Commerce's summary, citing the Congressional Budget Office, the legislation is calculated to cost the average household less than 50 cents per day.

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Bruce Smith December 4, 2009 | 8:21 a.m.

I admire Gary Forsee for having the guts to say what should be said. Just look at what is coming out about the false science involved with climate change. The "Clean Energy" bills will do nothing but increase costs, cause more job losses and put the US in an even worse global competitive position while accomplishing nothing as far as "saving" the planet.

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Justin Thomas December 6, 2009 | 11:00 a.m.

It is interesting how the university is a signatory to the University Presidents' Climate Commitment and at the same time looking for ways to avoid short-term costs. Trying to balance these two objectives are going to cause other problems. Responses should not include exemptions and increasing student fees. As nice as it would be, the university cannot expect to benefit from using policy to present a favorable public image without paying something for this in return. A large part of the university is a business; however, there is also a large part of the university that is not a business. Unfortunately, the former does not carry as much weight in the keeping of official records and reports. If the university continues to be motivated by the financial bottom line of its operations, there will need to be a reevaluation of how profits are measured in order for the remaining public interest not to disappear completely. Understandably, the university is in a difficult position given the current financial situation, and the raised interest in climate change and sustainability present additional pressures. However, universities are, at least in part, public institutions that can show the way by taking into account the long-term costs of making short-term financial gains. Is this one of them?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 6, 2009 | 11:25 a.m.

Bruce Smith wrote:

"Just look at what is coming out about the false science involved with climate change."

You might want to withhold judgement on the "false science" part. My impression (and I haven't been able to find all the emails collected anywhere on the web) is that a lot of statements have been taken out of context, For example, a "trick" is often used in scientific jargon to mean "ingenious way of doing something", rather than a deception or smokescreen.

A lot of people have jumped on this because they want to believe the science is false, rather than reading and judging for themselves.


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