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Students self-impose carbon tax on travel

Whitman College will place taxes into “Green Fund” for sustainability initiatives
University Business, June 2016

This fall, travel funded by the student government at Whitman College in Washington state will be taxed based on emissions generated in getting to and from the destination.

Passed in February as a two-year pilot program, the rule is likely the first of its kind imposed by a student government at a U.S. college.

Students traveling as part of a ski club or flying to New York City for a journalism conference, for example, will calculate the cost of their emissions, but not be charged directly.

At the end of the academic year, the Associated Students of Whitman College will place the sum of these taxes into a “Green Fund,” from which students can request financial support for sustainability initiatives.

Whitman’s sustainability committee had encouraged student senators since September to adopt the legislation as a step toward campus carbon neutrality.

But it’s not just about getting students to find less carbon-intensive means of travel. The idea, says the student government’s Sustainability Committee Chair, Dani Hupper, is to “use our campus as a learning laboratory as we continue to educate Whitman’s community about developing solutions to climate change.”

Each year, the student government gets about 50 applications for travel funding, she explains.

If the new program succeeds, the student government and sustainability committee hope to expand the tax across campus, to cover faculty and athletic travel, for example, Hupper says.

Statewide, others may also be paying attention to the program’s goals. Two proposals for carbon pricing are slated for this year’s Washington State ballot in November.

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