Congress passes legislation to fund sustainability curricula and programs

On July 31 Congress passed all provisions of the Higher Education Sustainability Act (HESA) as part of the new Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (HR 4137). HR 4137, expected to be signed into law shortly by President Bush, creates a pioneering “University Sustainability Grants Program” at the Department of Education. It will offer competitive grants to institutions and associations of higher education to develop, implement and evaluate sustainability curricula, practices, and academic programs.

This is the first new federal environmental education funding program authorized in 18 years. Endorsed by over 220 colleges and universities, higher education associations, NGOs and corporations, this grant program will provide the catalyst for colleges and universities to develop and implement more programs and practices around the principles of sustainability. The bill also directs the Department of Education to convene a national summit of higher education sustainability experts, federal agency staff, and business leaders to identify best practices and opportunities for collaboration in sustainability.

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the original Senate sponsor of HESA, explains: “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.”

“As the world’s population increases, so does our impact on the environment, which makes it more vital than ever to invest in training the next generation of scientists, engineers, planners and business professionals,” said Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of the three original sponsors of HESA in the House of Representatives. “By providing grants to universities and institutions to develop sustainability programs, we can protect the planet while helping maintain America’s economic competitiveness.”

Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), another original House co-sponsor, added: “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.”

The Campaign for Environmental Literacy organized the broad alliance of higher education and environmental organizations supporting the bill. CEL’s Director Jim Elder noted: “As we begin to connect the dots among our nation’s many challenges in energy, national security, sustainable economic development, environmental protection, and social justice, it is imperative that our schools incorporate this fundamental perspective in their teaching and practice. Higher education is embarking upon a major and highly ambitious transition to accomplish this, and we gratefully applaud Congress for recognizing the need to help.”