Forsee warms to climate change legislation

Saturday, December 5, 2009

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- A letter to federal lawmakers from University of Missouri President Gary Forsee opposing federal climate change legislation has drawn the former Sprint Nextel CEO into a dispute with a leading Democratic lawmaker from California.

The Columbia Tribune reported that Forsee recently urged Missouri's congressional delegation to oppose cap-and-trade legislation, which he said would add $5 million to $8 million to the university's energy budget.

That prompted U.S. Rep Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, to send his own letter to Missouri's federal lawmakers suggesting that Forsee's numbers were inflated.

Those numbers were based on the assumption that a university power plant on the Columbia campus would have to buy up to 30 percent of greenhouse gas allowances. But Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the proposed bill would not apply to the power plant because of the relatively small amount of electricity it generates. That reduces Forsee's numbers by a third, Waxman said in the memo sent Thursday.

Forsee spoke further about the issue at a Friday meeting with employees of the university's health care system. He said he's not opposed to the environmental goals of federal climate change legislation but remains concerned about the proposal's potential financial impact.

"We're feeling a little better about the interpretation," he said at the town hall meeting on the Columbia campus. "There's still work to be done. We're glad we raised the issue."

The bill would require industries to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Industries emitting more pollutants than allowed would have to buy credits to do so, and industries emitting less than the limits could sell, trade or save those unused emissions.

Forsee said he didn't see the letter as contradicting his signature on the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, which calls for a reduction of greenhouse gases, because he was only asking that lawmakers consider the fiscal impact on Missouri.

"I wasn't saying we don't agree with the presidents' climate initiative," he said.

Forsee's letter to lawmakers drew criticism from some students and faculty, including a group of 30 demonstrators who protested Thursday outside University Hall. Ten students arrived later to show their support for the president's position.

U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, a Democrat, sent his own letter of rebuke to the university president.

"I am surprised you would not more thoroughly study the facts before sending correspondence mischaracterizing how a proposed federal bill might impact the University of Missouri," Skelton said.

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Information from Columbia Daily Tribune, www.columbiatribune.com

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