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Utah State University students this week approved a student-proposed $3 per-semester fee that will create an office of sustainability on its Logan campus and fund student projects geared toward conserving resources.

The so-called Blue Goes Green fee was modeled on a small fee approved by University of Utah students two years ago and which has since funded a variety of projects, including the resurrection of an old fruit orchard and research into low-water irrigation for campus landscaping. The USU proposal generated opposition among campus conservatives who posed as "green police" on Tuesday, citing students for not recycling, not using recycled materials and driving to campus.

But in voting Thursday and Friday, students gave their approval on a vote of 2,305 to 1,952, according to USU officials. Students also selected peers to various leadership posts, electing Erik Mikkelsen as next year's president.

The sustainability levy was the only fee on the ballot, earning a place there after a review by a board stacked with student leaders.

"There is definitely some significant benefit if it takes off in the right direction," said student President Tyler Tolson. "If students can apply for this money, that provides a great opportunity for students to take on projects and make a difference on campus. That goes on a long way on a resume."

But if the sustainability efforts don't become self-supporting over time, Tolson said he would have misgivings about piling another fee on students, currently on the hook for $804 in annual fees on top of tuition.

According to proponent John Retschler, the fee will raise about $90,000 a year, with $41,000 earmarked to pay a sustainability coordinator and another $35,000 for student projects. The rest will cover office expenses and travel and fund student employment associated with AmeriCorps. Criteria have yet to be devised for selecting projects, said Rentschler, an undergraduate majoring in conservation restoration ecology and a former student senator representing the College of Natural Resources.

"It is completely open and completely inclusive. The possibilities are truly endless," he said. At least 90 other U.S. colleges and universities, including the U. and Westminster College, have passed student green fund initiatives, according to Rentschler.

But others wondered if the possibilities for waste were endless.

"Wouldn't thoughtful feedback from students one-by-one gain at least as much traction as a single employee hired to do this same talking?" wrote student Joe Woodward in a Facebook posting. "It's about more students needing to speak their minds and live green themselves. No amount of money can even begin to make that kind of impact!"

But student leaders hope the fee can be retired if the new office brings in sustainability grants and could save students and taxpayers money by cutting utility expenses.

"Paying the price for two Snickers bars per semester to decrease costs across campus, I'm all for that," Tolson said.

USU goes green

A $3 per-semester levy will establish Utah State University's office of sustainability and fund student projects aimed to lessen the university's environmental impacts.