Life + Arts

On-campus organization spreads green

Dozens of students gathered at the UH Environmental Club’s January meeting to plan for an active, environmentally friendly, spring semester.  

The meeting began with a discussion about clean energy jobs. The students commented on a quote about clean energy jobs presented in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

After discussing upcoming activities on campus, the meeting was called to action. Students planned for the upcoming Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Houston and began calling members of the community to increase turnout. 

“The EPA held three public hearings on the agency’s proposal to strengthen the nation’s air quality standards for ground-level ozone, also called smog,” according to its Web site. 

“About 15 UH students attended (the hearing),” Alejandro Savransky, field organizer of Environment Texas, said. “Their testimony was moving and powerful.”

UH atmospheric scientist Barry Lefer said he thought it was good that UH students attended because there were only three meetings being held across the country in Sacramento, Arlington and Houston.

“I’m sure there were some other students that wished they could attend,” Lefer said. “It was good that so many UH students got a chance to give their opinion to the EPA panel.”

Lefer recently served on the EPA advisory committee and teaches Introduction to Air Pollution at UH.  

Some midday speakers, including government officials, citizens, industry representatives and independent business owners, gathered to share opinions about raising standards. Some testimonies were complex while others were personal.

Several individuals offered supportive anecdotes, highlighting concerns over health issues and exposure to children.

“I welcome the standards with open arms because I know, ultimately, it is the right thing to do,” State Senator Rodney Ellis said.

Others offered opposing views explaining lengthy compliance processes, difficulties and challenges.

Accounting senior Alfonso Colombano believes that increasing standards eventually results in diminishing returns. Colombano is the Energy Association’s student advisor and recently co-taught the “What is energy?” workshop series for EA members.

“Reducing that additional molecule of smog might cost more than the entire reduction from 400 to 75,” Colombano said. “We have to analyze benefits and costs and compare.” 

Colombano suggests that industry specific concerns of health care and illnesses might be “better through, say, a pollution tax …  (Then) industries have an incentive to reduce it because it increases profitability of the firm while at the same time reducing pollution.” 

Savransky sees an environmental and economic opportunity in increasing the EPA standard.

“We have the potential to power the entire state with clean energy such as wind and solar,” Savransky said. “The EPA’s actions to strengthen the (standards) are critical to transforming Texas into the clean energy capital of the world.”  

EPA standards aside, Houston’s air has become much cleaner in recent years.

“Air quality improved dramatically over the last five years because point source polluters, such as electric power plants and refineries, have reduced their nitrogen oxide,” Lefer said. “People of Houston are breathing cleaner air because of it.

“What’s the value of health, fewer ailment (and) better quality of life? Electric companies are not going to go out of business because of that,” Lefer said about higher standards raising costs for businesses.

Those wanting to learn more about these and related issues can begin on campus, Lefer said.

“I think the Environmental Club is a great place to start because you find opportunities and meet like-minded students,” Lefer said.

Students can also get involved in community efforts such as the Free Activist Workshop that took place Saturday at Texas Southern University.   According to Savransky, these trainings are held “throughout the year to give people some basic organizing skills, such as building coalitions, working with the media and recruiting volunteers.”

“This is what Texas wants,” Savransky said. “We want clean air.”

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