Op-ed by Ed Haffmans

To the Editor:

A recent Sierra Club article listed 163 of the greenest campuses in the U.S. Unfortunately, SUNY New Paltz did not make the cut.

On Oct. 5, The Kingston Daily Freeman interviewed SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian.  He dwelt at length on the need for tuition increases and more State funding, but his answer to a question about energy was inadequate. He referred to the college Sustainability Website that boasts several “feel good” token initiatives like eating more kale and turning the lights off for an hour in June, that do little to address the college’s $2 million annual dirty energy budget supported by tax and tuition payers.

SUNY New Paltz has a history of foot dragging on clean energy and efficiency.  In the 1970’s, students demanded alternatives to dorm life and with the cooperation of a progressive College president, Dr. John Neumaier, students built the Environmental Site behind the maintenance building. Included was an organic garden, a  wind generator and eight student built houses that were mostly solar heated, all at no cost to the college.  The Experimental Studies Department (Innovative Studies) with some 40 courses including several on renewable energy, was founded. In 1979, The Grant Writing and Advanced Solar Design classes won a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a beautiful oak post and beam, earth sheltered, solar heated, four bedroom student residence by the tripping fields (they hate when you call it that).  The influx of over $100,000 in federal money attracted the attention of SUNY Central. The SUNY Board of Trustees was headed by Chase Manhattan Bank with direct corporate interlocks to Big Oil.  A haughty new President with delusions of royal grandeur, Dr. Alice Chandler was sent to the college and one of her first official acts was to close the Environmental Site. Despite student, faculty, and community outrage, in June 1981, the college Environmental Site, with seven of the original student built solar tempered houses was bulldozed. (The eighth burnt on a rainy November night in 1985). The Innovative Studies Department  was abolished.  In 2006, the Department of Energy funded earth sheltered solar dorm, which had been blocked from its intended (or any) use by SUNY bureaucrats, and allowed to deteriorate, was also bulldozed.

This of course was before Dr. Christian’s tenure, but at the time, not only was Chase Manhattan Bank (i.e. big oil) heading the SUNY Board of Trustees, but Central Hudson was on the New Paltz College Council. President Christian is currently a paid  board member of Central Hudson, which makes its money primarily from  fossil and nuclear derived energy and whose profits are directly proportional to energy waste, slick PR not withstanding.

New buildings pay only token attention to energy efficient design. A recently built million dollar glass atrium on the NORTH side of the Student Union Building is an energy hog.

Meanwhile buildings are being built in “Passiv Haus “ style in Germany, Vermont, and even here in Ulster County, that  produce more energy than they use. The slightly higher cost of intelligent energy design is far more than offset by energy savings over the life of the building.  All new State buildings, especially SUNY buildings, should be built for zero energy use.

Whether you believe your own eyes, and the 97 percent of climate scientists  who say fossil fuel combustion is destabilizing our climate, or the few in the pockets of Exxon and the Koch bothers who say the climate is cooling, it is estimated that fossil fuel pollution kills 4000 people a year in New York alone. If the climate is cooling, all the more reason to harness all the efficient design and solar energy we can A.S.A.P.  We have the technology to make the transition to 100 percent renewable energy in a few decades, and with savings that according to thesolutionsproject.org would amount to $33 billion a year for NY state.

One worthy group that is working to bring SUNY New Paltz into the 21st century is the Environmental Task Force, with student faculty and community members. Contact them at  etf@newpaltz.edu.

While our communities make strides towards a sustainable future, legalized corruption and conflict of interest at all levels of the SUNY bureaucracy allow a good old boy “business as usual” approach to energy consumption to persist decade after decade.  It’s time to recycle this business model!

Ed Haffmans (SUNY New Paltz 1981)

425 County Route 2

Accord, N.Y. 12404

(845) 687-0587