Bill to renew green fee considered in Legislature

Eleanor Dearman

Hundreds of students across campus working on green fee-funded projects have helped reroute over 27,000 pounds of UT’s compost from landfills, plant over 75,000 seedlings and grow about 250 pounds of produce.

The $5 student fee, the green fee, that makes these environmental projects, along with other University environmental initiatives, possible is at risk for removal this legislative session. Green fee-funded programs include projects such as the Microfarm, Longhorn Lights Out and the solar-powered charging stations.

In order for the green fee to be renewed past summer 2016, lawmakers must approve one of two bills filed in the House and Senate that would allow the fee to continue with student approval.

Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso), author of the Senate version of the bill, placed his bill on Thursday’s intent calendar but said he doesn’t think there is enough support to renew the green fee.

“Right now the bill is stuck, unless more members of the Senate have a change of heart,” Rodríguez said in an email.

The House version of the bill remains pending in committee after an April 22 hearing.

All students pay the green fee, and it costs $5 during long semesters and $2.50 each summer semester. Karen Blaney, program coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, said most students pay, on average, $40 to $50 during their time on campus.

The fee was established on campus in 2011 under the authorization of a piece of legislation passed during the 2009 legislative session. The original bill stipulates that a University could implement an environmental-service fee that would be renewable for five years if approved by a student vote. UT’s program is currently entering its fifth year of operation.

The original bill does not clarify what happens after that fifth year. Current legislation that Rodríguez and Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin), who is the author of the original bill, filed would allow renewal of the fee every five years if the fee is approved by a student body vote.

“There are students all the time wanting to see a more environmentally friendly campus, and this is an opportunity for students to have a little bit of control — have a little influence in where their campus is going,” said Jaclyn Kachelmeyer, Green Fee Committee member and international relations and global studies senior who has been lobbying for the bills this session.

Since 2011, the fee has issued 103 grants and 67 distinct projects and employed 101 students in 59 new jobs. 

Approximately 6,800 students, representing 20 student organizations, submitted a letter to lawmakers in support of the green fee’s renewal.

“I hope it gets renewed,” said Allie Jeong, president of Longhorn Lights Out. “I think them taking away all the opportunities and potential programs at UT is pretty terrible.” 

Blaney said current projects would be completed even if the fund is not renewed for a sixth year.

“We would facilitate the completion of any project that has been funded, so nobody has to worry about that,” Blaney said. “I am certain that everything that has been approved this far is safe.”

The challenge would be for ongoing and new potential projects, which would lose a funding source, if the bills do not pass, director of sustainability Jim Walker said.

“They would have a challenge to figure out how to keep their operations going,” Walker said. “Now we would help them with that, but there’s not more money lying around the university, so it would be a challenge.”