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For those who have been following the Higher Education Sustainability Act (HESA), I’m thrilled to report that today Congress overwhelmingly passed all HESA provisions as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HR 4137). The Act should be signed into law very soon by the President. The terrific support for HESA by the campus sustainability community made a difference! HR 4137 contains two key campus sustainability provisions:

  • Summit on Sustainability. Convenes a national summit of higher education sustainability experts, federal agency staff, and business leaders to identify best practices in sustainability and opportunities for collaboration to expand sustainable operations and academic programs.
  • University Sustainability Grant Program. Authorizes the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to offer competitive grants to colleges and universities to establish sustainability research programs, such as developing new alternative energy sources. It also allows schools to implement sustainability practices on campus. Endorsed by over 220 colleges and universities, higher education associations, NGOs and corporations, the pioneering Sustainability Grant Program will provide the catalyst for schools and associations to develop and implement more initiatives and practices based on the principles of sustainability. This is the first federal environmental or sustainability education grant-making program authorized in 18 years. Here’s what Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the original Senate sponsor of HESA had to say:

“Colleges are a natural breeding ground for the kind of innovation we need to move to new, environmentally-friendly energy sources. Our young people know the stakes. They know that developing sustainable energy programs will affect their lives, their economic well-being, and the planet they are inheriting. These grants will help college students take the reins of the movement to make energy last longer and have less of an impact on our environment.” And Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), an original House co-sponsor, said:

“What better way to promote sustainability than to encourage our institutions of higher learning to create academic programs to teach its concepts, and to implement sustainable practices themselves. Society will reap the benefits of the excellent return on investment gained by educating students in sustainable practices.” Unfortunately, according to Jim Elder at Campaign for Environmental Literacy, it looks highly unlikely that this program will be funded in the FY09 budget. Unless this changes, you can expect a push beginning around February 2009 to get funding included in the FY10 budget. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Jim Elder at elder@fundEE.org. Or simply thank Jim for his tireless efforts in getting these provisions passed! -Judy Walton