by Nadia Jones
It looks as though Pennsylvania has joined Ohio, Texas and West Virginia, as the fourth state that will lease land owned by the State System of High Education for the extraction of coal, oil, natural gas, coal bed methane and limestone. The law was signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett on October 9 and became effective immediately.
It is believed that the law was enacted to help offset the funding woes effecting Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, which, according to an article by Mother Jones, experienced an 18 percent budget cut in 2011. The law states that payments derived from land owned by the State System of Higher Education should be allocated as follows:
– 50% goes to the university where the resources were extracted and should be used for deferred maintenance projects or energy efficiency or energy cost-saving improvements.
– 35% goes to the State System of Higher Education for distribution among those universities where no resources have been leased or extracted and can only be used for deferred maintenance projects or energy efficiency or energy cost-saving improvements.
– 15% goes to the “System for Distribution” to all 14 universities for the waiver of tuition fees and other charges and fees pursuant to other public school policies.
The law does not allow the state to lease land without the university president’s written consent. This is an integral part of the law, because it gives the college community time to request that the university not proceed with the project, if they so wish. However, this does mean that a university president is required to listen to the discontent of the college community, which means that the power to execute mining or drilling lies in the hands of a few at the top. Never mind those who actually make universities what they are; the faculty and the students, those who give their lives and money to keep these institutions running.
Even if a university president is intrigued by the 50% payment, it doesn’t mean a school may use it as it wishes. The law specifically states that universities must use the money for deferred maintenance and energy efficiency projects; two things that aren’t directly about quality of education. If a school has been needing money for department shortfalls or any other budget issues regarding the classroom and learning, it will have to forget about it.
It is also interesting that only 15% of payments can be used for the waiver of tuition fees and other charges imposed on students, and this 15% must be allocated among all 14 universities in the state system. This seems like an insultingly small sum. Perhaps those in charge of coming up with these numbers know more about the actual effectiveness of these percentages, but requiring 85% of the money to be used for maintenance and energy projects seems restrictive and ineffective. Maintenance and energy-saving solutions are very important, but there could be other uses for the money.
However, what it really concerning about laws like this one is that the people who work at and attend these universities have no real choice in the matter. Although the public could choose to stop supporting the university by finding work and education elsewhere, that would not be an easy choice; given how difficult it can be to find new employment or pass another school’s admission process.
We have already seen the damage that mining and fracking can cause. The environmental and health concerns are not fantasy. The water and air quality of nearby towns and neighborhoods can be ruined by drilling and mining, and because the leased land will be on campus, the safety of those working at and attending the school will most certainly be put at risk. It just isn’t fair to force innocent people to be near mining and drilling sites, especially when they did not initially agree to work for or attend a school that took part in such projects.
When laws such as these pass through our legislative system, it reminds us that we need to always be on the lookout for government decisions that threaten our present and future freedoms. Is this new law worth the short-term monetary gain and brief supply of non-renewable resources, or should we reevaluate how we use our land and power our lives? Big business tells us we need to ruin our land to create jobs and spawn energy independence, but what they don’t tell us is that they don’t really care how it all turns out; as long as they can flee the scene with full pockets and personal security.
Nadia Jones has been working as a freelance writer for many years and is currently serving as a regular contributor to several blogs about accredited online colleges. In her spare time, Nadia enjoys cooking up new vegetarian recipes and listening to live local music. Feel free to send any questions or comments her way at Nadia.Jones5@gmail.com.