Committee continues Green Fee negotiations

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Karen Blaney, program coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, addressed students Tuesday regarding the UT Green Fee.
Photo Credit: Briana Vargas | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Green Fee Committee hosted a session Tuesday to inform students about the possibilities of reinstating the fee after receiving tentative permission from the UT System to move forward, according to Jaclyn Kachelmeyer, former director of the Campus Environmental Center.

The Green Fee is $5 collected per semester tuition bill that is applied to sustainability efforts and initiatives prescribed by the committee. The fee has spearheaded environmental change on campus, according to Kachelmeyer.

“The Green Fee is one of the leading forces for sustainability on campus,” Kachelmeyer, a Plan II and international relations and geography senior, said. “It’s the one primary outlet for students to push for the environmental changes they want to see, to be invested, to learn, to create jobs and to be a more environmentally friendly campus.”

The Green Fee was made possible by HB 3353, which was passed in the 81st Texas Legislature and allowed Texas campuses to implement environmental service fees for a five-year term. In 2009, Student Government issued a referendum to apply the Green Fee at the University beginning in 2011. This year, the final year of the fee’s implementation, its extension has been complicated by the state law’s ambiguous renewal terms.

“We assumed we can just start over in SG and vote to renew it, but UT legal services advised us that it wasn’t that black and white,” Kachelmeyer said.

The committee attempted to persuade Texas lawmakers to pass bills renewing the fee, adding a paragraph to clarify the renewal process. The bill passed in the House but failed in the Senate.

Failure to pass the bill reflects poorly on the Senate, according to Jenny McGinty, an SG liberal arts representative.

“The small, $5 fee out of each student’s tuition helped immensely with environment-friendly initiatives, and our assembly showed unanimous support for the fee,” McGinty, a Plan II honors and international relations sophomore, said. “The vote not only proves their disregard for student voice and power, but also their carelessness for creating environmentally friendly campuses.”

Despite a lack of state legislation, the UT System has given the committee indication that it is willing to allow the committee autonomy on the issue, according to Kackelmeyer. The next step is to continue campus conversations and bring the referendum to SG in Spring 2016, Kachelmeyer said.

Two thirds of the Green Fee Committee is made up of students, and two thirds of its funds have been granted to student initiatives. As of June 2015, the fee has helped create 63 on-campus jobs that have employed 115 students, and it has provided 103 grants to 83 projects, according to committee reports.

“Right now we need to get a coordinated effort and create a cohesive movement,” said Kachelmeyer. “The loss of the bill would be a loss for sustainability on campus.”