HESA Act Signed into Law: What Does It Mean for Climate Action on Campus?

NWF   |   August 15, 2008

Several weeks ago, Congress passed the Higher Education Sustainability Act (as part of HR 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act), and on the 14th of August, the President signed this act into law. This is the first authorized bill in 18 years which provides funding for environmental and sustainability work at higher education institutions.

Kevin Coyle, NWF’s own Vice President of Education, says, “We have to prepare the next generation for a new energy
economy and give them the skills to address future environmental challenges,
like global warming. And sustainability education is the right way to do it.”

The overwhelming support from institutions and individuals, partly through organizations such as the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, has made this opportunity available.

For colleges and universities, of which there are 4,100 in the US, this bill means several things:

–The creation of a University Sustainability Grants Program, which will provide competitive grants to institutions of higher education. These grants are intended to expand sustainability curriculum as well as help the institutions themselves become more energy-efficient. It also provides more funding for alternative energy research on campus. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this bill was passed in time to earn funding for  FY09, but Jim Elder of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy expects that we can look for these grants by FY10. The budget is expected to support anywhere from 25 to 200 campuses, to the tune of $50 million.

–The Department of Education will also convene a national sustainability summit to support curriculum development and sustainable management practices on campus.

It goes without saying that nationwide change often begins at universities, where critical thought and innovation (usually!) rule the day. Given that many of the implications of climate change are still unclear, and student enrollment in graduate science programs has been dropping for several years, perhaps this sort of funding can provide more of the research and experimentation that the US needs so desperately.