State Legislature hurts campus sustainability efforts

Mubarrat Choudhury

Last week, the UT Office of Sustainability held its annual Campus Sustainability Week, which promoted and educated students about different green programs around campus. This included informational tabling about the Green Fee to promote discussion for the policy’s renewal, which has been stagnant in the State Legislature for no apparent reason.

“Right now we need to get a coordinated effort and create a cohesive movement,” said Jaclyn Kachelmeyer, former director of the Campus Environmental Center. “The loss of the bill would be a loss for sustainability on campus.”

The Green Fee is an allocation of $5 from every student’s tuition each semester and $2.50 for the summer semester designed to promote eco-friendly projects on campus. Passed in 2009, the Green Fee was implemented on campus in 2011 and was set to expire after five years.

The Green Fee’s benefits are clear to those on campus, but not to the State Legislature. Although Student Government and the Green Fee Committee tried lobbying for the law’s renewal, it ultimately failed in the Senate. This is problematic, as many ongoing and potential projects could lose a source of funding, according to a Daily Texan interview with UT Director of Sustainability Jim Walker.

“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.”

The Green Fee provides research and project grants to various University organizations, including the solar power charging stations, microfarms, greenhouses, recycling initiatives and the Organic Bike Project. These projects have made tremendous impacts across campus, such as rerouting over 27,000 pounds of UT’s compost from landfills, planting over 75,000 seedlings, and growing 250 pounds of produce. Since its implementation, the Green Fee has issued 103 grants and 67 distinct projects and has employed over 100 students.

Almost 6,800 students across 20 student organizations submitted a letter to the State Legislature in support of the Green Fee’s renewal. Yet the 84th Texas State Legislature, like those of other states such as Florida, sees environmental policy as too “liberal” or a luxury, instead of objective and a necessity.

The inability for the Senate to pass the renewal shows its disregard for student voices, and it divides an issue as big as sustainability across partisan lines.

Choudhury is an economics freshman from Dallas.