Comets: Upcoming vote on ‘green’ service fee

Students will vote on a $5 tuition increase from April 24 to 26. The increase would fund environmental projects across campus

Photo Illustration by Katheryn Ho | Graphics Editor. Photos by: Katheryn Ho, Vedant Sapra | Mercury Staff

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All students will be able to vote on a fee referendum to support sustainable development and green projects on campus from April 24 to 26.  

The referendum proposes the addition of a $5 fee during fall and spring semesters and a $2.50 fee during summer semesters, which will last a maximum of five years and would gather approximately $150,000 per semester for the Green Fund. If passed, the Green Fund could provide funding for environment-focused initiatives like new apiaries, more pollinator gardens, a mobile bike repair station, Electric Vehicle charging stations and a rainwater collection system for the Eco Hub, according to SG Green Initiative Committee’s website. Since 2009, students at Texas public universities have been able to implement environmental service fees after HB 3353 and SB 2182  became law. These laws state that the university can eventually raise the fee to a maximum of $10 during fall and spring semesters and $5 during summer semesters through a majority vote from students. Alisa Model, chair of SG’s Green Initiative Committee, said that there is currently no fund dedicated exclusively to sustainable efforts on campus and that the creation of the Green Fund would benefit both researchers and students.  

“The fund would be by students and for students.” Model said. “It would greatly impact campus sustainability efforts as more projects get approved and funded, and opportunities would be practically endless based on what the campus community chooses to pitch to the committee.” 

If successful, the “Green Referendum” would place UTD alongside universities such as UT Austin, Texas A&M and UNT, which previously implemented green fees. UT Austin has used their green fund to support over 200 projects with almost $5 million. UNT has used its green fund to promote and fund projects related to on-campus community engagement, including a green wall, sustainable energy and more efficient waste reduction. Model said that all money collected by the fee would be pooled into a fund overseen by a student-majority committee, which would allocate the funds to various projects and research on campus. 

“Don’t just vote yes because other people are telling you to, do your research and think about what you could do with this fund,” said Sneha Sharma, Green Initiative senator. “This money isn’t just being taken from you, students can apply to use it, and I want people to start thinking about what initiatives they could take on campus with this funding.” 

Students currently on fixed tuition plans will not pay the fee if the referendum passes. Incoming students, regardless of their tuition plan, would begin paying into the green fund once the fee is approved by the UT system — both those on fixed and variable tuition. Chad Thomas, senior associate vice president for Student Affairs, said that if passed, the fee increase would still require approval by the UT system board of regents. Thomas said that unlike previous, more expensive fee increases, the environmental service fee faces less hurdles after the student vote, as there is already a legislative basis in the 2009 laws. According to Thomas, if the vote is successful the planned start date of the fee will be fall 2025.  

“What we have been really sensitive to has been the desire to have a student majority committee which would be responsible for reviewing any projects which want to tap into those Green Fund resources,” Thomas said. “The committee would also likely if passed have a liaison from Student Affairs and other members of faculty.” 

Madison Ibe, Former Green Initiative chair and current Academic Affairs chair, said UTD has previously attempted to pass an environmental service fee but was unsuccessful. In 2018, SG passed a resolution for a green fee and conducted a survey, but it was ultimately never implemented. The Office of Sustainability has been a consistent supporter of the fee, said Ibe and Senior Sustainability Coordinator Avery McKitrick. 

The fee referendum organizers will hold three informational town halls before voting begins, with both virtual and in-person meetings where Comets can ask questions. The first town hall will be on April 16 at 10 a.m. via Microsoft Teams. The second town hall will occur April 18 at 4 p.m. in the Student Union’s Artemis Hall and the final meeting will be April 23 at 12 p.m. in Galaxy Room C. 

“Ecoanxiety is a big issue amongst our generation, and that feeling of helplessness that we get,” Sharma said. “The best way to tackle climate change is to actually do something about it. We aren’t just going to sit on the sidelines and let it happen. If we are going to die, then we will die trying. This fund would give students the resources and opportunities they need.” ch


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