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McKeesport Area's AP environmental science class receive input letter from Obama administration

| Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 12:56 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
McKeesport Area juniors Lauren Wolf and Nicholas Grice and senior Rachel Duffy review a letter and photograph sent from the White House in response to a letter sent by their Advanced Placement environmental science class to President Barack Obama.

An environmental science project among McKeesport Area High School students prompted feedback from the White House regarding the Obama administration's commitment to the wise use and preservation of natural resources.

Students in Marla Hayes' Advanced Placement environmental science course debated the economic and environmental impact of the proposed Keystone XL extension of the crude oil pipeline that transports Canadian oil to the Midwestern United States. The extension's proposed route brought legal action and criticism before being altered to minimize environmental disturbance.

Students took on the roles of TransCanada, American Petroleum Institute, the Republican Party, Environmental Activists, Indigenous Environmental Network and Bold Nebraska as they weighed the pros and cons of the pipeline's extension. After completing an argument for their assigned group, students then composed letters sharing their real opinions with President Obama.

“There were a plethora of reasons why the pipeline should not be built, for example, the risk of spills and the destruction of the environment and wildlife,” junior Lauren Wolf wrote. “I know that we as a nation can find other ways of alternative energy. The problem is that if we don't make an agreement with Canada, some other country will instead.”

Senior Rachel Duffy wrote about the difficult task the president has in weighing the short-term benefits of jobs and cheaper fuel against the long-term concerns of an unpredictable future.

“The very scientists who raise objections about the pipeline should be engaged to improve and monitor it,” Rachel wrote. “Scientists who oppose and support the pipeline ought to work together, that they might create the safest possible system.”

McKeesport Area heard back from Obama's administration on Monday.

“I was sorting through my mail, and there was an envelope from the White House,” Hayes said. “We were very surprised to get a letter back. We wrote our letters because we wanted the president to know this issue is important to all people, including children. This could mean more jobs for the next generation, or more environmental issues.”

Students read a letter, bearing Obama's signature, that refers to the environment and wildlife as some of the world's most precious treasures.

“I am committed to safeguarding our country's air, water and land by reducing pollution and building solutions for today's pressing environmental challenges,” they read.

The letter outlines the Obama administration's preservation of more than 1,000 miles of rivers and millions of acres of wilderness. It also mentions international partnerships intended to make the earth a cleaner, safer place for today's youth as they become the next generation of working adults with families of their own.

The president encouraged students to be active in preserving resources and keeping the planet safe through recycling and conservation.

“Small steps like these can make a big difference when we work together,” students read.

The letter referred students to environmental information and online lessons at

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or