Stephen Bell, Online Staff

Miami University may be turning a shade greener this spring, as the university announces plans to unveil a new energy sustainability plan.

Earlier this month, Miami President David Hodge said he is in talks to finalize a Campus Sustainability Plan, which would aim to decrease the university’s reliance on coal over the next two decades.

Hodge said he is excited about putting the plan into action and hopes to inform students when the deal is finalized.

“We hope to have an announcement out before the end of the semester,” Hodge said.

Hodge has worked with Miami’s Campus Sustainability Committee since 2008, negotiating what he called a “realistic” goal for clean energy.

“Basically, what’s happened is the Sustainability Committee issued a series of recommendations about what Miami can do to (decrease our reliance on fossil fuels),” Hodge said. “We have been working with them to fine tune it so we are on the same page. We are trying to be as aggressive as we can, but we need to be realistic.”

While Hodge hopes to one day phase out coal entirely, he said the university is at least 10 to 15 years away from completely making the switch to alternative energy, unless future technology allows the transition to happen more gracefully.

“What this will probably mean is moving the power plant to something like natural gas or bio mass, but we’re probably at least 10 to 15 years out to make that full transformation,” he said.

Not everyone is completely satisfied with Hodge’s projections. Todd Zimmer is the President of Beyond Coal at Miami, an organization dedicated to ending the nation’s reliance on coal.

While Zimmer appreciates the swift action Miami’s administration has taken to draft a finalized comprehensive sustainability plan, he is disappointed the plan does not include provisions to phase out coal entirely by a certain date.

“We believe that, minimally, the university must include a retirement date for the on-campus coal-fired steam plant,” Zimmer said. “Without such a provision, the plan is incomplete and not as strong or forward-looking as it needs to be in order to be effective.”

Furthermore, Zimmer said the effects from coal-fired power plants can be disastrous. Coal-fired power plants, like the one on Miami’s Western Campus, are largely unregulated and a source of Mercury pollution according to Zimmer.

“Mercury is a heavy metal and neuro-toxin released in the burning of coal, and we are burning 25,000 tons of coal a year right here on campus,” he said. “(In the United States) one in six women has mercury levels so high in their bodies that it would damage the development of a fetus.”

Thursday, Beyond Coal held free Mercury testing for students at the Shriver Center, and will release their findings later next week.

However, despite his concerns, Zimmer is happy a resolution is imminent.

“The Campus Sustainability Plan is a fantastic move in the right direction and we commend President Hodge and the Sustainability Committee for their efforts,” Zimmer said.

Junior Ashley Smith sees both sides of the issue. While Smith is happy a plan is being drafted, she understands Zimmer’s concerns about coal.

“I’m happy that action is being taken, but I also understand how damaging coal can be to both people and environment,” she said.

However, the report doesn’t just contain long-term environmental solution. Hodge said the university has already begun to work toward environmental sustainability.

This summer, Stoddard and Elliot Halls will be converted to geothermal energy, according to Hodge.

In addition to adding a sustainability co-major, Hodge said Miami will amp up its recycling efforts and to work to only construct buildings with silver LEED certifications (the third highest behind gold and platinum certifications).

Overall, Hodge said his primary concern is to decrease reliance on foreign sources of carbon-based fuels, but as he explained, timing is everything.

“Whether global warming is happening or not, we want to make sure we are creating a healthier environment,” Hodge said. “It’s about making the right decision right now.”