Hearings - Statement
 
Statement of Sheldon Whitehouse
Hearing: Full Committee hearing entitled, “Examining Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions at U.S. Colleges and Universities.”
Thursday, April 3, 2008

Thank you Madam Chairman, and thank you to all of the members of the panel for being here today. I’d like to extend a special hello and thank you to President Levin of my alma mater, Yale University. I recall my undergraduate career there very fondly and I am proud that my daughter Molly is a freshman at Yale today. I am also greatly pleased to see this great institution at work to combat global climate change. The universities represented here today are educating the next generation of leaders who will help reverse the tide of global warming, and at the same time are leading by example by minimizing their own carbon footprints. I know these efforts required difficult choices, and I commend all the panelists for their institutions’ commitment to their students and our environment.

America’s universities are uniquely positioned to lead the fight against climate change. Yesterday, I attended a speech by Dr. Ruth Simmons, the President of Rhode Island’s own Brown University, in which Dr. Simmons spoke eloquently on the very issue that brings us here today. She stated:

"Who would have predicted a century ago the environmental degradation that has led to climate change? Yet, science stands ready to identify problems, raise awareness, change behavior, and bring solutions to bear. This is the miracle of what the modern university and its research capacity offers the world today. What an evolution from the narrow missions of colonial universities!"

I couldn’t agree more. I’m especially proud that colleges and universities in Rhode Island have taken critical steps to transform their campuses into models of energy efficiency and carbon neutrality. We in the “Ocean State” regard our environment and our responsibility to protect and preserve it as a nearly sacred cause. So it makes sense that our institutions of higher learning should be models for the way we think and act about climate change. They make me and all Rhode Islanders extremely proud.

Brown University innovated the “green campus” revolution, starting in 1991 with its “Green Initiative.” Seventeen years later, Brown has achieved one of the lowest energy densities and carbon footprints among universities of its size. With its recently inaugurated Community Carbon Use Reduction Program, Brown plans to do even more: reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 42% below 2007 levels by 2020, and up to 50% below that threshold for all new construction on campus.

Similarly, the University of Rhode Island, in Kingston, has also taken significant steps to reduce its carbon footprint and become more energy-efficient. This winter, URI announced that it would undertake a massive upgrade of its operational systems, from lighting to heating to water management. These upgrades will save the university seven million kilowatt hours of electricity and forty-two millions of pounds of steam per year. Meanwhile, the college’s Renewable Energy Club has been studying the feasibility of wind turbines and other alternative energy generation that could make the campus even more sustainable and further reduce its footprint. It’s a great example of a university attacking the problem at many different levels, the administration and students matching each other’s commitment to change.

Our smaller institutions are also busy creating innovative solutions that will help better meet the needs of the planet.

Roger Williams University, in the town of Bristol on the shores of Narragansett Bay, now runs its shuttle bus on 100% recycled canola oil taken from its cafeteria’s fryers. This alone will keep 2300 gallons of diesel fuel from being burned, and cut the shuttle’s CO2 emissions by 75%. It’s a small step, but one that shows the innovative and creative thinking that have become the hallmarks of Rhode Island’s college and universities in this area.

America’s universities give our young people the tools and the opportunities to live happy, healthy, and productive lives. It makes sense, then, that while these institutions are preparing their students for the future, they should also do everything they themselves can do to make sure that our planet will be in a condition to be enjoyed and enriched by these students. Brown, URI, Roger Williams, and other Rhode Island institutions have all made that commitment, and it is essential that more and more colleges take up this cause and begin to look for ways in which they can contribute to our fight against global climate change.

I thank the Chairman again for bringing this excellent panel together today and I look forward to hearing the testimony from our witnesses.

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