University of North Texas students to vote on fee for environmental improvements

University of North Texas students may be shelling out more green to make their school environmentally friendly.

Students will vote today through Friday on whether to pay a $5 green fee each semester to support environmental improvements and sustainability programs such as recycling and adding bike lanes. With an enrollment of about 36,000, the students expect to raise about $360,000 per year.

The green fee campaign is a Texas college trend prompted by a new state law that allows students at public universities to pay environmental service fees to help make their campuses greener. The movement is characterized by students from UNT joining forces with student leaders at campuses such as Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin to push referendums at their schools.

"We are getting the word out through fliers. Facebook groups are big," said Cameron Tharp, president of UNT's North Texas Energy and Environment Club.

Tharp said supporters are visiting student organizations, sororities and fraternities to get students interested. When online voting begins, volunteers will e-mail students to remind them to vote for the cause. If it passes, the money raised will go to the UNT sustainability council, which will hear proposals pitched by students, staff and faculty, Tharp said.

The board of regents of any given school that passes the green fees has final approval. Student groups will closely monitor the final phases of the student referendum, said Jacob Bintliff, Texas Green Funds campaign coordinator and a UT student.

Once the fees are approved, students can work with the schools to keep the program accountable, Tharp said.

"They can propose projects and watch where their money is going," he said.

Similar referendums have been approved by students at UT and Texas A&M. Those campaigns geared up after being mobilized through the ReEnergize Texas Coalition, a network of college environmental groups, which lobbied for the law in 2009.

Bintliff said they hope Texas will eventually have the most colleges with green funds in the nation. So far, the referendums have not faced much opposition. In fact, Bintliff's research indicates out of 73 votes nationwide since 1991, these types of efforts failed about three times.

"It's just really popped," Bintliff said. "It really has become mainstream -- the idea of sustainability."

At UNT, a number of environmentally friendly projects have begun. For example, UNT composts some waste from the Club at Gateway Center, which is a university restaurant. The university also converts cooking oil from campus cafeterias into diesel fuel for UNT vehicles, said Sarah Bahari, UNT spokeswoman.

Also, a new football stadium slated to open in fall 2011 is going to adhere to strict energy and environmental design.

But students want to see more green programs, including bike lanes, vegetable gardens, expansion of locally grown food at campus eateries, wind and solar energy.

Even private schools are joining the movement. In Houston, Rice University's Student Association just passed a $9 annual fee that will fund energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects, mostly student-initiated. The fee was approved by 71 percent of the students and will take effect this fall at the Houston campus.

Fabiola Molina, Aggie Green Fund campaign coordinator, said students see green fees as a good investment.

"It's really been a statewide movement," Molina said, adding that students worked across regions to push the effort: "In spite of the UT-A&M rivalry, we have been able to work together on this. It's been a fun experience."

DIANE SMITH, 817-390-7675

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