Stance against local tires-to-energy plant brings students to national letter-writing competition

Two Allegheny students will travel to Pace University in New York City next week to participate in the final round of Debating for Democracy’s national letter-writing competition. Brian Anderson, ’13, and Mingyuan Song, ’13, will be one of five teams presenting a policy action submitted in letter submitted to an elected official.

Anderson and Song collaborated to write a letter to Penn. State Senator Mary Jo White with a critique of current alternative energy legislation.

“We wrote about why the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act impedes sustainable energy sources in Pennsylvania,” Song said. “[The act] could lead to dirty energy use, such as the tires-to-energy plant.”

Song said that he and Anderson decided to submit a letter last semester after doing research on the proposed tires-to-energy project for Greenwood Township in their FS Environmental Science class with Professor Kate Darby. The pair disagreed with the project proposed by Crawford Renewable Energy, which would consist of the burning of old tires to provide energy to electric generators.

“We explored more on this issue, from the policy aspect,” Song said. “It was interesting to understand how this facility could be called ‘renewable’ from a policy perspective.”

Anderson and Song’s letter asks Senator White to shift focus away from alternative energy that is tied to the carbon cycle to cleaner alternatives that are more authentically renewable.

Allegheny’s liaison for Project Pericles, Amara Geffen, supports the D4D program because it helps students learn how to apply what they learn to real world situations.

“The policy letters provide our students with an opportunity to link classroom learning to substantive policy changes that are needed regionally and, at times, nationally,” said Geffen, who also serves as the chair of Allegheny’s Civic Engagement Council.

The extensive work student participants conduct to write their letters for the competition, Geffen said, helps them to learn about what it means to be an engaged citizen.

“They’re learning how to engage in participatory democracy,” she said. “They’re learning how to apply their writing and speaking skills directly within the political arena to leverage real change.”

Environmental Science professor Thomas Eatmon, who has had students from his classes submit letters to D4D in the past, says that while student finalists may not remember the actual competition 10 years down the line, the experience they have and the connections they make while they’re there will last a lifetime.

“You might have a vague memory of the actual letter and the issue that you were defending, but what will really stand out are the people you’ll meet and the conversations you had,” he said. “You’ll remember the feeling of being in New York, at this conference with similarly-minded students, participating in something that highlighted civic and social responsibility.”