GENEVA, NY — Environmental study students at Hobart and William Smith Colleges successfully prevented the release of two tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere by purchasing two SO2 allowances from the Chicago Board of Trade last week.
Purchase of the allowances was made possible by The Clean Air Act of 1990, which capped total allowable SO2 emissions by requiring power plants to purchase permits in order to operate. A certain number of permits are set aside and auctioned off to the highest bidder each year. This allows new companies, environmental groups, and private citizens the opportunity to bid on permits. The resulting reduction in the number of permits power plants may acquire limits the amount of SO2 emissions, which occur when coal is burned and have been linked to acid rain.
At this year’s auction, two HWS groups each purchased an allowance. The environmental economics class taught by Tom Drennen, assistant professor of economics, raised money by having the 32 students in the class write down the amount they would be willing to contribute. The total was $181. The HWS club Campus Greens decided to match that effort and purchase a permit from money in the club coffers.
Members of Campus Greens seek to promote an awareness of environmental issues and their impact on the world.
Hobart juniors William Kamery and Sean Morgan said they were glad to be a part of the effort. “The purchase is a way to show we are environmentally conscience,” said Kamery, an environmental science and economics major. Morgan, an economics major, said the project helped him understand the financial consequences for industry. He especially liked that the air is a bit cleaner because of his efforts. “You can’t measure the health benefit from releasing one ton less of SO2 but overall it feels better. We have made our mark by putting a dent into what can be emitted,” Morgan said.
Results of the auction, including the HWS winning bids, are available at http://www.epa.gov/airmarkt/auctions/2001/01spotbids.html Professor Drennen noted that 31 permits went to schools and environmental groups while the rest of the 180,000 permits went to two utilities, Enron of North America and the Ohio Power Company.
“We could, of course, sell our permit in the future if someone wants to pay us for it, but I wouldn’t do that. I wanted to show students how one can use market principles to solve an environmental problem,” Drennen said.
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