Some people have questioned Penn State's commitment to environmental stewardship and the common good when it comes to their record on Natural Gas Hydrofracking. They accuse the university of being too heavily influenced by industry money and will point to large donations and Penn State's seemingly pro-drilling Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research.
Our university exists in the same lamentable economic world that you and I do. The question "Does Penn State support corporate interests over environmental stewardship and the people's welfare?"
has a nuanced answer.
Nonetheless, I contend that within the whole picture of Penn State, our university does come down on the side of environmental stewardship and democracy, and if it doesn't seem to in the narrow context of Marcellus Shale, there are reasons that are well worth examining.
Penn State is funded by tuition (ever-rising), donations (in this economy!?), state appropriations (ever dwindling), and from research. Some of this research is federally funded and some is funded by corporations and from coalitions in their respective industries, like fossil fuel extraction. And in certain circumstances it seems as though corporate industry is the only game it town. Hence the accusations of Penn State being 'bought out' by the fracking industry.
These lamentable circumstances we find ourselves in today with fracking are attributable to the fact that we have ceded our power as students, as consumers and as citizens to corporate industry by not actively participating in democracy.
To put power back in the hands of the people, we need to get to work and take responsibility.
We need to understand how the economics of power are working in our society and to articulate to our representation what is and is not acceptable.
The way this is being done in places all over PA and the country is by establishing a Community Bill of Rights -- like the one on State College's ballot for Nov. 8.
This bill of rights is a declaration that we have a right to make decisions on the local level about the things that affect us in the places where we live.
It is a promise that we will not leave the decisions that will affect us undecided or allow other entities to decide for us.
The Bill of Rights also includes Environmental Rights like the right to clean water, clean air and healthy ecosystems.
By recognizing that the environment has rights, we can begin to see it as something other than just property. It doesn't force this change upon us, but allows for this new and important interpretation to be possible. It is our responsibility to steward these resources as a community; we can't keep counting on bigger governments to do it for us.
Finally, the Community Bill of Rights on the ballot for Nov. 8 includes a Natural Gas Drilling Ban.
State College is over Utica Shale, which could be fracked by horizontal drilling from a drill constructed even a mile outside borough limits. There is no reason to wait and see if it will ruin our water. Importantly, this will mark a demonstration of the kinds of decisions we can make using our community rights and will be a statement of solidarity with all the other places across PA that have passed this law.
As a student at Penn State I fought the university's stance on Natural Gas Drilling. Since I graduated this past spring, it has become clear that the position the university is in has more to do with economic reality than choice. But that doesn't mean that it is monolithic or can't be changed. We must turn our attention to the systematic problems that face America, not just what we see happening on the surface.
This realization initiated my support for bringing our Community Bill of Rights and Natural Gas Drilling Ban to a vote Nov. 8. I think it's something that all Penn Staters can get behind.
Penn State University's heritage began when it was established as one of what Abraham Lincoln called the "people's universities."
As a land-grant institution, the relationship between the people, society and the land is woven into the fabric of the university's legacy in both environmental stewardship and democracy.
That's why I believe that our Community Bill of Rights and Natural Gas Drilling Ban is in the true sprit of my alma mater Penn State.
As Penn State President Graham Spanier has said, "Local stewardship is the most viable way to ensure the health of our water resources."
The vote is Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Braden Crooks is the Founder of Groundswell. Email him at email@example.com.