This post was co-written by Kim Teplitzky, field coordinator for the Sierra Student Coalition

Today at Penn State University, dozens of students, faculty, and community members rallied in front of university’s coal plant, calling on the university to move beyond coal to clean energy solutions.

“Young people have been at the forefront of the greatest social movements in history, including the fledgling environmental movement that brought us Earth Day and put out flaming rivers,” said Penn State junior Chris Billman, who spoke at the event.  “We’re working to continue that legacy of creating a better future and the most important thing we can address right now is our dependence on coal. We can’t have a clean energy future without moving beyond coal.”

Many find it strange that the Nittany Lions still rely on coal despite the university’s other strides toward clean energy. “The biggest surprise to people is how much we rely on coal,” said sophomore Rose Monahan, a leader with Penn State Beyond Coal. “They know we use it, but they didn’t know that we get 80% of our energy from coal-fired power plants.”

And yet Penn State has made some progress. For example, Penn State is a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Sustainability Partnership Program, which has the school committed to reducing its global warming pollution 17% by 2012.

University clean energy student groups have praised the administration for its commitment to sustainability and for initiatives the school has already undertaken to reduce carbon emissions.  According to the College Sustainability Report Card, Penn State purchases 20% of its power from renewable sources.

Students and faculty are now calling on the school to commit to developing a plan and timeline for phasing out the school’s 80-year-old on-campus coal plant. 

Thankfully, there is some progress on that end at Penn State. University President Graham Spanier has agreed to meet student leaders this semester to discuss the topic. 

“This is an enormous opportunity for Penn State,” said Monahan.  “We’re looking forward to working with President Spanier, the rest of the administration, faculty, and students to expand Penn State’s reputation for leadership and excellence to the clean energy movement.”

Penn State Geography Professor Brent Yarnal, who has spearheaded regional and national greenhouse gas inventories and climate change impact assessments, also spoke at today’s rally and praised the students for understanding the urgency of climate change and for wanting their school to lead the movement.

We agree: With some of the world’s leading climate scientists on faculty and a history of student activism, Penn State should be a leader for Pennsylvania and all the large, public university systems in the nation.

Monahan echoed that sentiment.

“People are finally really start to talk about (clean energy),” said Monahan. “They realize how big an issue it’s going to be. Penn State is worried about carbon emissions, but we could definitely go bigger.

“If there’s any school that can step up to address the enormous challenges associated with coal reliance, it’s Penn State.  As President Spanier says, Penn State thinks big.  Coal is too dirty for our school—we’re better than that.”

Learn more about how coal is Too Dirty For College