ActivUs promotes its Beyond Coal Campaign


Photo: Bryan Langfeldt/Iowa State Daily

Students protest and march to Beardshear Hall on Monday, Oct. 11 to end Iowa State’s use of coal to power the university. More than 7,000 events in more than 180 countries took place on 10/10/10 in support of a healthier environment.

Tessa Callender

ActivUs, formerly known as Students for Iowa Public Interest Research Group, is a student-led environmental and social justice organization on campus that is teaming up with the Sierra Club, Sierra Student Coalition and Greenpeace to carry out the Beyond Coal Campaign.

The campaign is a nationwide effort aimed at making colleges and universities leaders in sustainability, intending to replace polluting coal plants with cleaner energy options.

The ISU organizations are starting at the heart of the Ames community — the ISU campus.

Powering campus for more than 115 years, the ISU Power Plant — located just northwest of Lied Recreation Athletic Center on Beach Road — provides 70 percent of the university’s energy and burns 148,965 tons of coal per year.

The Beyond Coal Campaign, a campaign created by the Sierra Student Coalition, began at Iowa State in the fall of 2009 to create awareness “that the university still relies on ‘dirty’ energy and has been slow to embrace clean energy,” said Anna Waddick, senor in art and design and president of ActivUs.

“The purpose of the campaign was to get the university to think about not only where its energy comes from, but also what other technologies it can use to power itself,” Waddick said.

Through its campaign, the group hopes to empower the school to become a leader in sustainability and help people recognize the urgency of the climate change problem.

After bringing the campaign to Iowa State, other campuses like the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa are jumping on board with the Beyond Coal Campaign.

As part of a celebration for the International Day of Action on Climate Change on Sunday — 10/10/10 — ActivUs held a sustainability march from the power plant to the steps of Beardshear on Monday.

The march was open to anyone who would like to come and express how they feel about the usage of coal plants and their unsustainable nature.

“We hope that the university will see that there is student support for such an important issue, and that they might realize the power they have to make an enormous change not only here on campus but on this earth as well,” Waddick said. “We want to see the university phase out the coal plant that they currently rely on to provide energy to the university and make a plan to start utilizing different forms of clean energy.”

While Iowa State has taken some prominent steps toward clean energy — like purchasing 10 percent of its energy from wind — three-fourths of it is still being produced from coal.

Coal pollutes when it is mined, transported to the power plant, stored, and burned, whether that be through smog, acid rain, ash, or toxic chemicals and can cause asthma, bronchitis, heart attacks, cancer and even death.

There are 13,000 deaths that occur each year from fine-particle pollution from U.S. power plants, according to a study done by the Clean Air Task Force, with the state of Iowa being one of the top five killers in the nation.

Iowa State gets its coal from Kentucky and Illinois. Once this coal is burned, the remaining 77 tons of fly ash waste is sent to Waterloo each day where it is dumped into an unlined and unmonitored quarry. Such disposal could lead to contamination of the water supply since fly ash contains harmful levels of radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium, as well as arsenic, boron, mercury and lead.

“The reason coal is getting a lot of attention right now is because it’s the number one contributing factor to environmental degradation, the number one factor contributing to greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions, the number one debilitating factor when trying to jump start a clean energy economy, and the number one reason ISU should not call itself a university that ‘removes institutional barriers that do not support and encourage sustainability,’” said Graham Jordison, recent ISU graduate in political science and environmental studies who serves as the Sierra Club Iowa Coordinator.

More than 600 universities have signed the Presidents’ Climate Commitment to reduce their carbon emissions to zero.

ActivUs would like to push Iowa State University to make this pledge as well and instead rely on things like natural gas, biomass, wind, and solar energy to serve as the university’s main power source.

“The university is a leader in so many other aspects, science and technology, humanitarian efforts, why not environmental ones?” Waddick said. “We have an opportunity to create clean energy jobs, clean up our air and solve the climate challenge by moving away from coal. Iowa State should be investing in the future, not tied to the past.

“I want to be proud of my school for its innovation, vision and ability to meet the greatest challenges of our generation by investing in clean energy.”

ActivUs also hopes to shed light on the school’s “Live Green” campaign that was created in 2008 and show the students that the university is not operating with sustainability, Jordison said. He would like Iowa State to push the limits when living green, which would include drastically reducing the amount of coal burned at the ISU Power Plant by using alternate energy sources to create a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Iowa State has taken some efforts toward sustainability on campus including more environmentally friendly CyRide buses, installation of LED lights, and recycling programs among others, but with the burning of coal being the largest degradation to the environment on Iowa State’s campus, Jordison thinks that the university is moving in a good direction, but not the right one.

Steam, electricity and water cannot be stored, therefore the power plant continuously produces whatever amount of energy is being demanded for campus. This provides a direct correlation in coal being demanded, so if we as individuals can be conscious of our energy use, we can lower the amount of coal being needed for the time being until an alternate energy source is put to use.

The Beyond Coal Campaign was brought to Iowa due to the fact that all of Iowa’s universities have coal-fired power plants that produce the schools’ energy. Iowa has been recognized for its advancements in bio-fuels and renewable resources, and the Sierra Student Coalition would really like to see the universities not only develop new technology, but be held to higher standards when using it.

ActivUs started off its campaign a little over a year ago when it promoted its message, “Watch your ash, ISU!” last fall in front of Parks Library.

The group plans to hold a 5K Beyond Coal Run, co-sponsored with the ISU Running Club, in November; as well as meet with university administrators to discuss the options the university has, host a day that will draw attention to issues that the university faces while still employing the use of coal and show movie screenings showcasing films that depict the struggles the world is facing due to its dependency on coal.

ActivUs hopes to attend the United Nations Conference on Climate Change and run a campaign to try and get the school to stop selling bottled water.

“We’re focusing on campuses because universities should be leaders in technological innovation and sustainability, creating models for green society,” said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “Campuses should be places of learning, development and growth where young adults can thrive, not homes to dangerous and polluting 19th-century technology.”