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There’s nothing like a long, frigid winter to prove what a great idea it is to have well-insulated, energy efficient buildings. President Obama spotlighted research underway at Penn State to develop more such structures during a visit to the campus last week and while there chose not to focus on the university’s less laudable energy-related activities.

Maybe that’s because in the recent State of the Union address, the President put natural gas in the same category as clean energy sources like wind and solar. This approach jibed with that taken by the Penn State’s Board of Trustees, which voted in late January to get the school’s steam plant off of coal and onto natural gas.

Although disappointing to many students and campus club EcoAction, which had pushed hard for a campus shift to renewable energy, the decision wasn t surprising. For starters, the President of the Board of Trustees currently serves on the boards of both New York’s and Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Associations. Last year, the University received an $88 million gift from alum Terrence Pegula former owner of East Resources, one of the top-violating oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania. 

And then there’s the 2009 admission following pressure from local activists and the Responsible Drilling Alliance that a widely publicized study conducted by Penn State touting the presumably vast economic promise of Marcellus Shale development was, in fact, funded by industry.

Yet none of this stopped hundreds of students, residents, and advocates from rallying on a stormy day to cast a ray of sunlight on the need for both Penn State and the nation to adopt truly sound energy policies. They know what campus officials and elected leaders have yet to own up to: saying natural gas is clean or making it a fallback position in a game of political compromise doesn t make it any less dirty.

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