A collective of angry Arkansas farmers and a citizens' organizing group this week began an attempt to draw the University into an environmental conflict over a power plant proposed by one of Harvard's stock interests.
The utility involved is Arkansas Power and Light, a subsidiary of Middle South Utilities. Harvard, with over $10 million in Middle South stock, is the utility system's largest single shareholder.
Environmentalists fear that AP&L's proposed 2800-megawatt, coal-burning facility would emit dangerously high levels of sulfur dioxide, possibly causing damage to crops, buildings, equipment, water supplies and health of nearby farmers.
Organizing the opposition to the plant is the Arkansas Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN), a citizens' group whose major concern is the "preservation and enhancement of the quality of life" of low- to moderate-income people in Arkansas. Its efforts, although still in their early stages, have already brought results.
The Student Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR), voted unanimously on Monday to ask Harvard to use its stock interest in Middle South to pressure AP&L not to build the plant without guarding against ecological damage.
The student ACSR, an elected undergraduate group which advises the full student-faculty-alumni ACSR, also asked that the University establish a committee to investigate the probable effects of a power plant on Arkansas ecology.
The same requests, along with others, were included in a letter sent to President Bok by ACORN on Monday. The letter also asked that Harvard persuade the utility to establish a "deposit in reverse," a system which would guarantee payment for farmers who incurred damages from the plant's operation.
Farmers in Arkansas banded together as the Protect our Land Association, a group affiliated with ACORN, presented the proposal for a deposit in reverse to AP&L on Monday.
ACORN's letter to Bok was forwarded to Hugh Calkins '45, chairman of the Corporation Subcommittee on Shareholder Responsibility. Calkins said yesterday the sub-committee would consider the issue at its next meeting on November 19.
The requests contained in ACORN's letter to Bok received immediate support from the New American Movement. Harvard Ecology Action and the South House Committee. South House also asked other House committees to support ACORN in its efforts.
Harvard Ecology Action will supply money for the fight, Ruth C. Streeter '76, a spokeswoman, said Wednesday, and will begin a petition drive next week. She added that the group may send some students to Arkansas during Christmas recess to study the plant and its possible environmental hazards.
Streeter said Ecology Action is "100 per cent behind ACORN. As the plan stands now, it screws the farmers and it screws the air."
AP&L's proposed plant has been called "possibly the largest single source of pollution in the world" by the Arkansas Department of Planning--a statement with which the company disagrees.
"By the time this plant is built," a spokesman for the utility said this week, "that statement will no longer be true. There may even be some [worse polluters] now."
"We've always been a good corporate citizen," he said, adding that the utility has always paid "legitimate claims" for damages in the past.
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