Southern Illinois University Students Reject Clean Coal Myth

The Daily Egyptian has an excellent article about Southern Illinois University at Carbondale student groups that are ready for their campus to move beyond coal. They’re asking SIUC to shut down their aging coal plant and replace it with clean energy sources. This campus in the heart of Illinois coal country hosts a coal research center, but judging by the quotes in this article, many students aren’t buying the myth of clean coal.

Ruby Roknic, President of Eco Dawgs, said the RSO’s primary focus is to educate students on the effects of dirty energy, such as coal, versus clean energy options, such as solar or wind power.

Roknic, a sophomore from La Grange Park studying civil engineering, said this is important so the university can shift to a clean energy path.

Coal plants negatively affect the environment by causing effects such as increased mercury levels in lakes that prevent people from fishing or even swimming in them, said Cheyenne Adams, a member of Eco Dawgs.

Adams, a sophomore from Bloomington studying zoology, said the group will focus this semester on other impacts the coal plant has on the university besides providing power, such as the adverse health effects on students from having a coal plant on campus.

When I was a student there, I used to walk by the coal plant every day since it’s located near several dorms at the center of campus. There’s no doubt that the campus community is exposed to pollutants.

Southern is already behind Illinois’ other public universities. Eastern replaced their coal unit with a biomass steam boiler. The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana announced plans to retire their campus coal plant. Western switched to natural gas for financial reasons, explaining that “putting money into the existing coal boilers is putting money into a system that is becoming obsolete on many levels.”

Be sure to read the full article for comments from an Illinois Department of Natural Resources spokesperson that are refreshingly honest compared to what I’m used to hearing the agency’s mining office say about coal.

SIUC’s campus plant and coal research center are popular with fossil fuel industry executives. But, I suspect they’ll find their ties to coal will increasingly become a liability with student groups, prospective students, and others who realize that there’s no future in a 19th century energy source.