Purchasing pollution

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What can $20,500 buy?

More than 1,800 reams of photocopier paper, 6,833 pints of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, or a new car, among other things.

How about 290 tons of sulfur dioxide? At least that's what students at Glens Falls (N.Y.) Middle School want to buy with money they have raised.

The students have raised $20,500 to buy so-called pollution allowances at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's annual auction at the Chicago Board of Trade this week.

Each credit allows the purchaser to emit a ton of sulfur dioxide, a colorless, suffocating gas. The students would retire the allowances they buy, thereby reducing the amount of sulfur dioxide that is released into the air. The EPA will auction about 22,000 credits this year.

The school in upstate New York raised about $13,640 from a community auction, more than $4,000 from a letter-writing campaign, and $2,860 through 25-cent "gum allowances" and 50-cent bubble-blowing permits.

While gum is usually verboten, a Glens Falls teacher had permission to sell gum for one day. The teacher sold 1,000 pieces of gum before 8:30 a.m.

Leading the charge was 6th-grade teacher Rod Johnson.

"We study the problem, and buying the pollution allowances gives us a solution," he said.

Glens Falls and 15 other elementary, middle, and secondary schools participating in the pollution auction got involved with the help of the National Healthy Air License Exchange, a Cleveland-based nonprofit environmental group. Most of the other schools have raised a few hundred dollars.

Last year, Glens Falls Middle School was the first K-12 school to buy allowances, raising $3,200 to buy 21 tons. And though the 290 tons of emissions the school hopes to buy this year is small relative to the total being auctioned, Mr. Johnson says it's a significant learning experience for his students.

--Meg Sommerfeld

Vol. 15, Issue 27

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