Update: OU promises to retire Lausche Heating Plant by 2016

Beyond Coal representatives Camille Scott (left) and Badger Johnson (right) talk to members of their organization Monday night about the group’s March 7 meeting with Ohio University officials. Photo by CG Editor-in-Chief Erich Hiner.

Editor’s Note: Several items in this story have been updated to reflect recent developments. All new information is italicized.

CG Staff Report

Members of the Ohio University chapter of Beyond Coal said OU officials verbally committed to retire the aging Lausche Heating Plant by 2016 during Monday’s meeting between OU administrators and environmental activist groups. That promise was confirmed by OU Communications and Marketing on Tuesday.

Four members of Beyond Coal, along with representatives from the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, met with OU administrators and attorneys Monday over claims by the environmental groups that OU’s coal-fired heating plant is in violation of the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Click here to view College Green’s original story about the plant and the events leading up to the meeting.

Beyond Coal lead organizer Badger Johnson said the officials representing OU, including Vice President of Finance and Administration Stephen Golding and Associate Vice President of Facilities Harry Wyatt, agreed that Lausche must soon be replaced.

OU Media Specialist Katie Quaranta said in an email Tuesday that the university does not yet have a statement, but she confirmed that OU officials promised to replace Lausche by 2016.

Quaranta sent her confirmation in response to an inquiry by The Athens News, which asked her to confirm the information in the first version of this story. The Athens News shared Quaranta’s confirmation with College Green Magazine.

Monday’s meeting was closed to the public, and OU officials at the meeting who were questioned directly about the negotiations declined to comment.

The officials did not say whether the plant would be replaced with a non-coal facility, Johnson said.

“They refused to give us any written confirmation,” Johnson said. “I think they are going to make good on at least part of it.”

Beyond Coal representatives who attended the meeting said Golding verbally agreed to create an action plan for the plant in six months. Such a plan would include hiring an energy consultant to review the possibilities for Lausche.

Although Beyond Coal members said they were pleased with the promises, the meeting was far less productive than they hoped. Beyond Coal representative Greg O’Hearn and other Beyond Coal members said the OU officials were distant and uncooperative toward the environmental group.

“I don’t think it went very well,” O’Hearn said. “We finally get to sit across the table from them and we get blank stares.”

As of now, no legal action has been taken by the university or the environmental groups. If the NRDC and Sierra Club sued OU, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would have up to 60 days to step in and take over the litigation.

Members of Beyond Coal said they were frustrated with the outcome of the meeting. Many said they felt the university officials were not taking the situation seriously.

“The impression that we got was they think they can push us aside, and that’s not acceptable,” said Beyond Coal representative Camille Scott.

Recent budget cuts and proposed tuition increases have caused general unrest among OU students. Beyond Coal organizers said during meeting Monday night that they plan to tap into the emotions among students in order to gain support for their cause.

“They don’t think we have that kind of power,” Scott said. “Let’s show them otherwise.”

Beyond Coal representatives said they are hopeful for increased involvement from university officials regarding revamped energy practices at OU despite the perceived negative tone of the meeting.

– CG Editor-in-Chief Erich Hiner, CG Lifestyles & People Editor Sarah DeCarlo and CG Science Editor Audrey Rabalais contributed to this report.

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