Elis protest coal industry, Schwarzman ’69

Dozens of students gathered outside Phelps Gate on Saturday afternoon to spell out their protests against coal industry expansion.

Passersby and student environmental activists stood in a formation of the words “No New Coal” in order to express their disapproval of the new coal-based power plants planned for three states across the United States. The message was directed toward Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman ’69, a former adjunct professor at the Yale School of Management, whose company backs the expansion project.

“Yale is a meaningful place for him, and for him to hear Yale voices in protest might be enough to change his mind and invest in cleaner energy,” explained Rachel Payne ’12, a member of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and one of the demonstration’s organizers. “We want to influence him because he does have the power.”

Blackstone Group, a major private equity firm, owns 80 percent of Sithe Global Power, an energy company which aims to construct three new coal facilities in Pennsylvania and Nevada as well as on New Mexican Navajo territory.

Many residents of the areas surrounding the proposed plants have collaborated with grassroots organizations, such as the Sierra Club, to voice their opposition to these plants’ construction. No Blackstone Coal, an online campaign organized by environmental activists, is collecting photos of people holding signs which ask Schwarzman to redirect Blackstone funds toward cleaner energy.

“We hope it will alert Schwarzman that they [the plants] are not economically viable investments,” Payne said.

Apparently these cries have been heard: On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency revoked an air permit allowing the construction of the Desert Rock Plant in New Mexico. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the environmental implications for endangered species in the area “puts the plant’s future in doubt.”

According to the Sierra Club, which has played a major role in advocating against the power plants, coal is one of the dirtiest sources of energy in use and provides over 30 percent of the United States’ global warming emissions.

“There are better options,” Brian Tang ’12, who learned of the event through Facebook, said of coal energy. “It’s ridiculous. The only reasons [for its use] are political.”

Claire Henly ’12, who proposed the idea of the human sign, said she hoped the use of visual protest along with eventual petitions would encourage University President Richard Levin, as well as Schwarzman’s other former Yale colleagues, to send the former professor letters expressing their dissatisfaction.

In addition to “No New Coal,” students formed the number 350, signifying 350 parts per million — the maximum safe atmospheric carbon dioxide level, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This photo is part of a campaign sponsored by 350, a global movement aimed at drawing attention to the urgency of the climate crisis.

The demonstration against Blackstone concluded the two-day College Environmental Activist Leadership Conference, a gathering of student environmental groups from colleges throughout the Northeast. The event featured workshops, panels and speakers, including Yale dropout and environmental proponent Billy Parish. Kara Kaufman, a Brown University sophomore who attended the conference with several other Brown students, said it was “inspiring to connect with other students” over environmental concerns.

Krista Dressler, a speaker who lead a workshop on the Student Public Interest Research Groups, said regardless of Schwarzman’s response, the “No New Coal” demonstration will raise awareness somewhere.

“Even if it misses one target,” she said, “it’ll hit another.”

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