By Winter Hawk
The MaryPIRG Student Climate Action Coalition, run by student-led advocacy and volunteer organization MaryPIRG, sent a bill proposal earlier this month to the Maryland General Assembly’s Department of Legislative Services to combat climate change at public universities in the state.
The coalition is a University of Maryland MaryPIRG campaign that includes students from 11 universities across the state of Maryland, said Reese Barrett, a sophomore chemical engineering major and the climate action campaign coordinator.
The coalition started drafting the carbon neutrality bill proposal in March to fight the use of fossil fuels on all four-year public college campuses in Maryland, said Barrett. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach complete carbon neutrality by 2035, according to the bill proposal.
The proposal currently has support from Maryland House Del. Jared Soloman (D) and Sen. James Rosapepe (D), the latter whose district includes College Park. The coalition has also received help from university professors to “nail down” the language in the bill, said Barrett.
“Drafting this bill has been very difficult because we’re all students [and] none of us are experts in this field,” said Barrett. “We’ve been really fortunate to have people at our universities and our networks who have been really helpful and given us a lot of great resources and information.”
The coalition sent the proposal to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services and expects to receive the first draft of revisions soon, said Barrett. The bill will then be brought to the floor of the Maryland House and Senate after the Maryland General Assembly session begins in January.
The coalition hopes universities will be able to afford carbon neutrality despite budgetary constraints brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting financial burdens, said Barrett.
One coalition member, Cailyn Joseph, a senior environmental studies and biology major, said that although finances are a valid concern, the effects of climate change are going to be more costly if universities do not act now.
“Many of these efficiency projects, although pricey in the beginning, often pay themselves off in a couple years,” said Joseph. “Also, many of these schools already have a pledge to go carbon-neutral within the next 30 years anyway, so there were already plans to invest in this sort of project in the works and our bill is just forcing quicker action.”
And luckily for the coalition, some initial concerns regarding the bill’s affordability have been put at ease.
“We’ve had to kind of strike a balance with our legislation to make sure that what we’re doing [has] the intended impact but also is fiscally responsible,” said Barrett. “COVID has had a pretty huge impact on universities, but we’ve done some research and we don’t think that our proposal is actually going to be as expensive as it may appear on the surface.”
The coalition will continue to meet over the winter break to work on bill revisions until formally reconvening in the spring. Aside from the bill, Barrett said the coalition will also continue to advocate for sustainability and combat the climate crisis at universities in Maryland to implement “meaningful change” throughout the state.