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October 16, 2012 11:00 AM Coal Problems for the University of Wyoming

By Daniel Luzer

Why does coal so often seem to show up as a controversial topic on college campuses?

First environmentalists at the University of Kentucky objected to the school’s decision to name a dormitory after the substance. Now it looks like the coal guys got the University of Wyoming to remove a sculpture they say is “anti-coal.”

According to an article by Jeremy Fugleberg in The Casper Star-Tribune:

University of Wyoming officials sped up the removal of a controversial anti-coal sculpture because of the furor it caused, but chose to tell the public the removal was as scheduled and because of water damage, emails show.
The decision to remove the flat whirlpool of coal and charred Wyoming wood sinking into the earth was the last in a number of steps top university officials took to calm angry state legislators, energy industry donors and trade group representatives.

The sculpture, by British artist Chris Drury under a commission from the UW Campus Public Art Committee, can be seen below. It’s a little hard to tell what’s going on here, since it basically just looks like logs that are burnt at one end. It was very controversial, however.

According to a piece about the sculpture in the New York Times:

It is 36 feet in diameter, and at its center, it features logs from trees killed by beetles, surrounded by lumps of coal. Forests have been dying in large numbers across the West, and scientists say it is because the climate has warmed, reducing the frequency of the well-below-zero temperatures that kill insects that attack pine trees. Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are a big reason things have gotten warmer, they say. Foremost among them is the burning of coal.

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One legislator, Republican Representative Tom Lubnau of Gillette, in particular objected. As he explained to the Times “While I would never tinker with the University of Wyoming budget… every now and then you have to use these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from.”

Funding for the sculpture came from $45,000 donation from an anonymous benefactor.

Coal industry executives were quick to express their anger and remind universitity administrators that they paid extensive taxes to the state.

Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, apparently sent an email to university donors in which he suggested that in the future “it might be helpful to remind them [the university] of…[the sculpture] and other things they have done to the industries that feed them before you donate. They always hide behind academic freedom but their policies and actions can change if they so choose.”

And so they did. Citing “water damage,” administrators at the university decided to take the sculpture away. One administrator apparently emailed the angry legislators to let them know the college was taking care of the problem.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer