Executive order poses environmental rollbacks, said to help coal miners

A statue of a coal miner sits in a small garden in downtown Shawnee on Oct. 20, 2016 (Photo by Patrick Connolly)

In a region dominated by the coal mining industry in the 19th and early 20th century, President Donald Trump was hoping to follow through on his campaign promise to help coal miners with his executive order rolling back on environmental regulations.

Trump’s March 28 order rescinds six Obama-era executive orders aimed to curb climate change by reducing carbon emissions, as well as launching a review of the Clean Power Plan. The order is said to identify all policies that are obstacles to “American energy independence,” according to White House officials, though local experts doubt it will actually increase employment in coal mining.

David Bayless, the director of the Ohio Coal Research Center at Ohio University, said the U.S. is transitioning away from coal and no executive order will change that.

“It’s probably going to make (coal miners) feel better that their voice is being heard in a political sense,” he said. “Is it going to create more coal jobs? No. Coal is receding in terms of use in electrical power generation because natural gas can be used to make electricity cheaper.”

Even if companies were to mine more coal, employment in the industry will not increase because of the trend toward mechanization, Geoffrey Buckley, a geography professor, said.

“Mines have been more mechanized so we don’t need all those workers,” he said. “These policy changes will not make a difference in those jobs.”

Trump’s executive order also has significant implications for the environment. The order rescinds President Barack Obama’s 2016 presidential memorandum calling climate change a threat to national security.

The order aligns with Trump’s threat to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, including his appointment of Scott Pruitt, a climate change “denialist” as the head of the EPA. Though he has not formally moved to disassemble the agency, Trump has proposed significant cuts to the budget by almost a third.

Under Obama, the U.S. was on board with the Paris Agreement, a global effort to stop temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

“The U.S. was on track to meet that target under Obama pretty easily because we had been reducing our dependency on coal,” associate meteorology professor Ryan Fogt said. “We saw coal emissions decrease under Obama’s administration. … We won’t meet our target, but we’ll be putting more into the atmosphere.”

Fogt said an economic and environmental solution would be to improve clean energy production.

“People like myself think there are a lot of job potentials in clean energy sources that could be solutions to both the economy and a cleaner way of producing energy,” he said.

Despite what Trump may say, Bayless said the market is not going to change, even if the Clean Power Initiative were to be eliminated.

“I don’t think from a political standpoint, there’s anything that can be done to stimulate coal mining jobs,” he said. “That’s unfortunate for coal miners because a lot of them really did think the current administration would be able to change the landscape and make coal competitive again, but there’s no president who can change that.”



Originally published for The Post on April 11, 2017.


Ohio politicians support DeVos as secretary of education

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as secretary of education raises concerns about her policy positions.

Ohio politicians backing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received campaign funds from her family, raising questions from Ohio University education students.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was among the 50 senators to cast their vote to confirm DeVos as secretary of education. The historic motion made by Vice President Mike Pence to break the 50-50 tie secured DeVos’ position.

DeVos’ confirmation appeared controversial to some, including Sarah Gossett, a sophomore studying early childhood education. DeVos financially backed many of the senators who voted for her, including Portman. The DeVos family donated $51,000 to Portman’s campaign, according to a Federal Election Commission report.

“It doesn’t look good,” Gossett said. “If you’re going to throw support behind someone who’s given you money, it’s going to look bad to the public.”

Gov. John Kasich also backed DeVos in a letter to the chairman of the Senate’s education and health committee, which voted on her nomination.

“I believe Betsy DeVos has the potential to usher in an era of real and meaningful education reforms in our country,” he wrote in the letter.

DeVos donated $2,700 to Kasich, and her husband, Dick DeVos Jr., gave him $5,400.

“Their decision was made more on the fact that they should support her for giving them money rather than what the people in their state want,” Cathey Graff, a junior studying middle childhood education, said.

Kasich’s press secretary declined to comment.

Much of the controversy surrounding DeVos centers on her support of charter schools, institutions started by individuals or companies funded by state money.

“Betsy DeVos has had privatized education her entire life,” Gossett said. “She has never interacted with the public school system. A lot of times, people who are brought up in the privatized area, they look at public schools and have the idea that they’re places where nothing gets done, where really there are huge gains being made every day in public schools.”

Kasich is also a proponent of charter schools and actively lobbies for student choice in what school they attend. The movement is a private sector approach to education in which teachers, parents or community groups can create schools backed by state funding.

In his letter, Kasich praised DeVos as a “champion of school vouchers and charter schools” and lauded her as someone who will reduce federal intervention in education.

“Kasich has always been a proponent of charter schools,” Gossett said. “It’s kind of disheartening that a member of public service is not in favor of public education.”

Charter schools are good in theory, Gossett said, but they have many flaws. In 2015, more than $1 billion was granted annually to charter schools in Ohio, serving about 120,000 students at 350 charter schools, despite many charter schools’ failures and closures.

Nearly a third of Ohio’s 65 charter school sponsors could go out of business after flunking ratings by the Department of Education in October, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

As a future educator, Graff said she is worried about what DeVos might do as secretary of education.

“I am worried because she talked about … a lot of decisions for teachers,” she said. “She’s going to be one of those supporters for hurting the teachers themselves and schools and not support them and give them the benefits they need.”



Originally published for The Post on Feb. 17, 2017.

Ohio EPA contemplates legislation to terminate national EPA

Kathy McGlone and Bonnie Bolen of Columbus hike through the Marietta unit of the Wayne National Forest during a hike and fireside chat organized by activists against fracking in the Wayne on Feb. 12. They stopped to look at a drilling rig owned by Steven’s Oil and Gas in the middle of the trail. (Photo by Patrick Connolly)

Three United States House of Representative members proposed new legislation Feb. 3 that would dissolve the Environmental Protection Agency.

The latest action taken by the House on H.R.861 was a reference to the House Science, Space and Technology committee for further consideration. If it is approved by the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump, the law would terminate the federal EPA.

The mission of the EPA is to “protect human health and the environment,” according to the agency’s website . The agency enforces laws such as the Clean Air Act.

The EPA has offices in each state, and Ohio has five EPA district offices. Though the proposed legislation would not shut down state offices, local branches are unsure how a federal EPA shutdown will affect them, Heidi Griesmer, the deputy director for communications at the EPA office in Logan, said.

“We do work with the U.S. EPA,” she said. “We implement and issue permits that are under federal laws, like the Clean Water and the Clean Air acts.”

Trump has been battling the EPA from early on in his campaign. He has called global warming a “hoax” and said the EPA is a “disgrace.” Trump selected Scott Pruitt, a climate change “denialist,” as the head of the EPA in December, furthering his threat to dismantle the agency.

David Parkhill, the president of Ohio University College Republicans, said while he agrees with partially dissolving the EPA, he does not fully support terminating the agency.

“There are companies that will dump their waste in a creek near somebody’s house to save a buck,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s one of the few flaws of capitalism. The EPA does do some good work where they’re protecting water and land.”

Parkhill, an avid proponent of coal mining, said the EPA hinders job growth, which is a reason to begin to take it apart.

“Right now, we are in $19 trillion debt and climbing,” he said. “It’s important we create jobs and we can export some of those fossil fuels. … The EPA does a whole lot to impede that.”

Although the EPA has been “weak and ineffective” in recent years, it does good work to restrict the fossil fuel industry, Caitlyn McDaniel, a 2015 OU alumna and Athens resident, said.

“This is evidence of just how deeply in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry our elected politicians are,” McDaniel said. “They have it in their best interests to deregulate environmental policies … now, we can see those companies are just going to rip out the EPA and make it that much easier for fossil fuel companies to come in.”



Originally published for The Post on Feb. 14, 2017.

Iranian students hold rally, protest Trump’s travel ban

Students, faculty and community members gather on a snowy College Green near Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium during an Academics United – No Visa and Immigration Ban rally on Feb. 9. Rallies took place on more than 50 campuses across the U.S., according to the Facebook event. (Photo by Patrick Connolly)

Iranian students at Ohio University joined students from more than 50 other campuses nationwide to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order limiting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The Iranian Student Society organized the rally at OU, and similar demonstrations took place Thursday at noon at schools across the country. Multiple speakers addressed a crowd of approximately 100 students, faculty and Athens residents in below-freezing temperatures and snow outside Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.

The purpose of the rally was to raise awareness of how the executive order affects people not just outside of the United States, but within, Ali Asghari Adib, a member of the Iranian Student Society and an organizer of the rally, said.

“This is a concurrent movement across the country,” Asghari Adib, a graduate student studying biomedical engineering, said. “We are one of the universities supporting the rally. We want to raise awareness of the executive order on our lives.”

Organizers asked for attendees to wear white to the rally and they passed out white balloons. The color is meant as an outward sign of peace, Ali Khaledi, a Ph.D. student studying physics, said.

“It was really good to see all these people in terms of support,” Asghari Adib said. “I’m glad we could share our stories, and maybe they’ll tell their friends. This way we can get our voice to the public.”

One of the speakers was Joe McLaughlin, the chair of Faculty Senate. Faculty Senate passed two resolutions Monday regarding Trump’s immigration executive order. One resolution called on OU officials to drop the criminal charges against students arrested in during a sit-in at Baker on Feb. 1, and the second urged OU’s administration to condemn the ban.

“This is something we had to do,” McLaughlin said. “People in our community are hurting. … We want them to know we’ve got their back. This affects all of us.”

The Iranian Student Society will hold fundraisers to support the legal costs of students arrested during the sit-in last week. Students were arrested while calling for a sanctuary campus, which limits university cooperation with federal immigration services. Khaledi thanked the students who stood up and got arrested on behalf of him and his friends.

Asghari Adib said he wants a strong response from the university and requests the declaration of OU as a sanctuary campus.

“We are hoping to receive a stronger statement from President McDavis in support of us,” he said. “The previous statement just said not to leave the country, which we know. We want to know the university supports us.”



 Originally published for The Post on Feb. 9, 2017.

Iranian students protest Trump’s immigration ban

Mohammad Hatami, left, and Ali Rafiei, right, chain themselves together outside Baker Center Monday in protest of President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration. (Photo by Hannah Ruhoff)

Ali Khaledi has not seen his family in three years.

His family was going to travel from Iran to visit him, but President Donald Trump’s executive order limiting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries bars them from doing so. Khaledi does not know when he will see his family again.

Students gather outside of Baker Center on Monday to protest President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration.

Khaledi and seven other Ohio University students from Iran gathered at the top of Baker Center at 11 a.m. to protest Trump’s decision. They held signs with sayings, such as “No hate, no fear,” and “My family is banned from visiting me.”

“We are here to show that we are unhappy about what’s going on,” Khaledi, a Ph.D. student studying physics, said. “It’s discrimination to ban people based on their religion or country of origin.”

Chains were wrapped around demonstrators’ wrists as they held up signs.

“The chains represent the fact that we cannot go outside the country and come back,” Ali Rafiei, a Ph.D. student studying chemistry, said. “We are limited and our families are limited. The chains represent the fact that we are prisoners. We cannot go outside and come back. We could go out, but what happens to our studies?”

Passersby stopped to observe, offering words of support and taking photos of the demonstrators, including Morgyn Freeland, an undecided freshman.

“It’s terrible that Trump is doing this,” he said. “These people have done nothing wrong. … It completely goes against everything our country stands for. It makes me emotional that I’m seeing this right now.”

Kay Tousley, an Athens resident, was walking by when she saw the group and gave them two cookies she purchased for herself.

“I love to see this kind of very quick pushback,” she said. “We’ve got to stop it as hard and fast as we can, you know, all the abominations that the Trump administration is trying to push through. … I wanted to show support.”

Another group of observers bought coffee for each one of the demonstrators to show their support.

Ari Blumer, a junior studying HTC engineering and physics, gives coffee to Mohsen Ghasemi and other students standing in the cold outside Baker Center on Monday who were protesting President Trump’s recent executive order on immigration.

Throughout the protest, some students joined. Maxwell Zelman, a senior studying animation, quickly jotted “Jews for Muslims! Solidarity” on a sheet of paper and stood next to the Iranian students.

“Muslims are under persecution and I’m not about to let a second Holocaust happen to a different group of people,” Zelman said.

Not all passersby were so agreeable. A man in a car drove by, honking his horn and shouting, “Vote for Trump,” with a thumbs up. The demonstrators did not respond.

“We are just trying to increase awareness in our community in order to let everyone know that we as students, we are like them, but we are limited,” Rafiei said. “This is discrimination against certain regions and certain nations.”

Rafiei questioned Trump’s selection of the seven countries, as they are not the major sources of terrorist attacks in the United States.

“It’s not going to solve anything,” he said. “It’s just going to put a burden on people: students and their family. It’s going to separate families.”

Khaledi said he is disheartened by the actions of Trump and wants to be treated like any other American.

“We’d like to see different treatment from the U.S.,” he said. “We came to this country because we thought it was the land of freedom.”



Originally published for The Post on Jan. 30, 2017.

OU students were among the 500,000 gathered for Women’s March on Washington

Emily Quinn, an Ohio University senior studying media and social changes, poses for a portrait in front of the United States Capitol on January 22, 2017. (Photo by Matt Starkey)

Ohio University students were among the crowd of half a million people gathered for the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

Catalyzed by President Donald Trump taking office Friday, the march aimed to “send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights,” according to the event’s official website.

Crowd scientists estimated the crowd outnumbered Trump’s inauguration ceremony threefold. Among the demonstrators was Jenna Reis, a freshman studying communication sciences and disorders. During Thanksgiving, Reis began planning to go to the march with her mom.

“It’s really important for both of us to speak up about women’s rights,” she said. “We’ve both been the independent ones in our family. We want to do everything in our power to speak up and walk in solidarity with other women who are standing up for what they believe in.”

Reis and her mom, along with eight other members of Hillel, made the 6-hour trek from Athens to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Reis said from the moment she got to the nation’s capital, she “got chills” from seeing men and women from all different cultures banding together.

“We could barely exit the train because there were so many people,” she said. “It was an incredible sight to see. It was packed. (We were) all together chanting and screaming and hugging each other.”

The demonstrators gathered at the National Mall to listen to speeches, poems and songs from various speakers, including high-profile celebrities like Madonna, Ashley Judd, Scarlett Johansson and more. Following the rally, the demonstrators walked a 1 1/2-mile stretch from the National Mall to the White House.

“You can’t change who the president is. However, I’m hoping to be able to make a stand,” Hillary Reskin, a freshman studying history and integrated media, said. “The people are the government, and it’s important we stand up for what we believe in. We can’t do anything unless we talk about it or tell people about it. It was important to voice my opinion.”

The march in D.C. was not the only demonstration supporting women’s rights. More than one million people gathered in solidarity worldwide Saturday.

“I feel like I’m going to see a lot more people exercising their constitutional rights (during Trump’s administration),” Jordan Warner, an Athens resident, said. “It was cool to see people in D.C. and all over the world marching for what they believe in.”

Reis said the march was “one of the most important things” she’s done in her life and is looking forward to using what she learned there when back in Athens.

“I want to take that feeling back with me and push me to be more active in the community,” Warner, who accompanied Reis on the trip to D.C., said.

Regardless of partisan affiliations, Reskin said people need to be knowledgeable and advocate for their beliefs.

“I encourage people to stand up for what they believe in and educate themselves,” she said. “If you’re going to believe something, you need to know why you believe in it.”



Originally published for The Post on Jan. 22, 2017.

Demonstrators gather for solidarity march following Trump inauguration

Photo by Carl Fonticella

While Donald Trump assumed the presidency Friday, some Ohio University students spent the afternoon protesting.

Students staged a walk-out from class at 12 p.m. when Trump was sworn in. About 50 students and Athens residents gathered at the Athens County Courthouse afterward, including Brittany Irwin, a freshman studying women, gender and sexuality studies. Irwin said she didn’t have any classes that morning, but she would’ve walked out if she did.

“I feel anger,” she said. “Rage. The usual.”

A cluster of students wearing Trump shirts and hats gathered around a Trump flag across the street. Jeremiah Griffith, an Ohio University freshman studying civil engineering, said he’d returned after demonstrators shouted at him earlier in the day.

“I got called a piece of trash and I said, ‘Thank you,’ ” he said.

The two groups taunted each other across the street with chants.

The group dwindled after a couple hours. Later that day, students and Athens residents returned to the courthouse for a “rally for solidarity.”

At 5:30 p.m., a rally of approximately 200 people banded together listened to speakers from different student organizations, including the Multicultural Activist Coalition, F–kRapeCulture and the Feminist Equality Movement, as well as local citizens who wanted to speak their mind.

At about 6:15 p.m., demonstrators poured into the middle of Court Street.

At least 15 police officers from the Athens Police Department and the Ohio University Police Department were stationed on Court Street before the march began. APD Chief Tom Pyle said the demonstrators had a parade permit and that police planned to be “flexible.”

“(We’ll) just make sure they’re safe, that they’re not harassed, and that no property is destroyed,” he said.

Several members of the United Campus Ministry stood nearby, accepting donations in exchange for pink beanies, called “p***y hats.”

“It’s a visible symbol that we’re against Trump and stand up for women’s equality,” Lavena Staten, an Ohio State University student and member of UCM, said.

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson watched the beginning of the demonstration from a bench near the city building.

Photo by Carl Fonticella

“You know, this is a part of democracy,” he said. “I’m happy for them to be able to voice their opinions and feelings in a responsible manner.”

The group marched several blocks through Athens, chanting about racism, police brutality and social inequality. At one point the marchers chanted, “No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here,” in a nod to a proposed Muslim refugee ban by Trump.

As the activists marched down the streets of Athens, they gained the attention of several students. Some stopped to take pictures, and others congregated outside of fraternity and sorority houses to watch. Some wore Trump hats.

Tyra Chavis, a freshman studying nursing, heard the demonstrators from her room and came outside to figure out what was going on. She was pleased with what she found.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “This is a peaceful protest. I definitely support it.”

After ending the demonstration with a solidarity clap, Lewis said the group would be going to Scripps 111 to watch the anti-inauguration, a live-stream of protests happening in Washington D.C.

“Do not go to class today,” she said. “Do not go to work today. This is not business as usual.”





Originally published for The Post on Jan. 20, 2016.