Austin, TX – Progressives in America have been stunned over the last year as President Obama’s agenda has repeatedly faltered and the far-right Tea Party has emerged as a dominant force in public policy discussions. Given the failure to make progress on major national issues, perhaps it should come as no surprise that some progressives have turned to local solutions.
A shining example comes from the Lone Star State which may soon become the leading state when it comes to “green funds” on college campuses. Last week Texas’s two biggest rival colleges, Texas A&M and UT Austin, both passed student referendums in favor of raising fees to pay for environmental services on campus.
On Wednesday Longhorn students approved a $5 per semester fee hike, and on Thursday Aggie students followed suit with a $3 fee of their own. If approved by each institution’s board of regents, these two funds alone could raise up to $4 million for sustainability projects over the next five years. Meanwhile, five other campuses in Texas are looking at creating green funds of their own (Texas State also created such a fund in 2004). If all of these campuses create green funds, Texas will surpass California and Tennessee which each have 7 public universities with green funds, resulting in an additional $7million raised for campus sustainability over the five year life of the fee.
“I feel privileged to have been one of the students leading the Aggie Green Fund initiative,” said Aggie junior Faby Molina. “The amount of support we have seen from the student body, both at Texas A&M and across the state, shows that students are not only ready to embrace sustainability initiatives, but more importantly, are ready to lead them.”
The vote comes after a new state law passed in 2009 gave approval to public colleges and universities in Texas to establish such fees if they were supported by the student body. HB 3353 was authored by Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin) and co-authored by Fred Brown (R-College Station) and provides guidelines on how the money can be spent.
“The green fund will likely help a lot of good projects on campus move forward,” says Jim Walker, UT Austin’s Director of Sustainability. “Sustainability is a growing priority here on campus, as this vote demonstrates. I look forward to working with students on projects that show we’re moving in a direction that is supported by the student body.”
The “Think Green Fund” campaign was launched in February by ReEnergize Texas, a coalition of student groups focused on climate and energy issues. Votes are expected this spring at UT El Paso, UT Pan American, UT San Antonio, the University of North Texas and the University of Houston. Together these campuses enroll almost 140,000 students each year.
The green fund campaign is unique in that the Texas Legislature gave pre-approval to the necessary fees during the 2009 legislative session, clearing a major hurdle for most student-driven fees.
“It shows that our state lawmakers think this is an important priority,” said Jackie Trevino, leader of the campus campaign at UT Pan American.
Most of the remaining campuses will hold special elections on Earth Day, April 22nd. If all 7 participating campuses pass the initiative, they will join Texas State in giving Texas 8 public colleges with green fees, more than any other state.
By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.