MESS looks toward sustainability fee

The Murray Environmental Student Society is working to implement a $1 to $15 green fee that will be added on to student tuition and will help fund future sustainable projects on campus, but the fee will only come to fruition if there is adequate student support.

While there is no definite timeline yet, Caleb Johnson, senior from Bowling Green, hopes that the group will have made serious progress in its endeavor by next fall.

The money from the fee would be put toward energy conservation methods and technology, renewable energy sources, and fresh, local food for Winslow Dining Hall and the Thoroughbred Room. Most of the money would go to support the Murray State Sustainability Committee, which works to create a more sustainable campus.

The Committee is currently in the early stages of adding solar panels to Murray State’s energy grid.

There are a series of steps the organization must go through before the fee can be put in place. Student awareness of the fee is number one on the list, followed closely by gaining student support.

MESS polled students on campus in 2010 to gain an idea of student approval should the fee be put in place. According to the poll, 92 percent of students said they would definitely pay $1 for a more sustainable campus, and 85 percent said they would pay $5 or more.

MESS will have to petition the student body in order to get a Student Government Association referendum that can be voted on.

“I think it’s an issue a lot of people can get behind,” Johnson said. “We’re talking about sustainability—it’s not a radical idea. It’s about the same cost as a couple cups of coffee.”

Kate Russell, a sophomore from Cobden, Illinois said, “A green fee sounds good to me. It sounds like a good idea for the University.”

Once the student body has passed the green fee, it moves to the University President. Randy Dunn has already shown his approval with other sustainable projects, having already approved the Sustainability Commission’s solar panel plan.

Finally, the fee must be passed by the Board of Regents. The Board of Regents has to see that the green fee will positively affect the student body and will be in the best interest of the university as a whole in order to make the extra cost worth it.

Besides tacking on an extra fee, the Board of Regents could instead allocate a portion of the student activities fee to keeping the campus green.

Allison Crawford, a junior from Murray said, “Our tuition and fees goes up 5 percent every year anyway. Maybe we could utilize that for the green fee.”

The project is the brainchild of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition, a group of environmentally-minded students who represent their home schools’ student body, which works to make Kentucky universities more sustainable.

KSEC has decided to push hard for green fees in universities across Kentucky, as well as campus divestment from fossil fuels.

More than 100 schools in the United States have established green fees in past few years, ranging staying around $3 to $5, but can be as much as $40, as is the case at Northland College in Wisconsin.

Murray is not the first to show interest in Kentucky. Centre College, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Louisville have all added green fees to their tuition.

For MESS, the push for the fee ends with the Board of Regents, but for environmental groups in other states, the vote goes on to the State government. In 2009, universities in Texas and Florida tried to establish green fees but met opposition when their referendum had to be passed by the state legislatures. The bill failed in Florida because of fears from legislatures that the extra fee, in addition to the already struggling economy, would be too much for students. As of 2010, the movement has been rebooted in Florida, with a fee of less than $1.

Currently, Murray State is moving toward a greener campus with cafeteria composts, bio-degradable cups and take-out boxes along with new energy monitoring systems in dorms and campus facilities.

Story by Amanda Grau, Contributing writer.