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Pittsburgh is a leader in green-building technology, boasting the first green convention center and numerous new green buildings like the Pittsburgh Glass Center and the Welcome Center at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Now, two local high school students hope to keep the streak alive with the new casino.

The students say they'd like to see the casino achieve platinum Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design status. LEED certification, a national benchmark for environmentally sustainable construction, design and use of buildings, comes in four levels: certified, silver, gold or platinum, depending on how many specific green measures are met.

Daniela Valdes and Sandra Hartkopf, seniors at the Ellis School, a private, K-12 all-girls school in Shadyside, say that climate change is one of the country's most pressing concerns, especially for young people, who'll bear the brunt of mistakes made today. "This is a lifelong struggle against people destroying the environment," says Valdes. The students, who co-founded Students for a Greener Pittsburgh, hope to convince people of small and large ways they can help--some as large as, say, a casino.

Harnessing the power of social networking site Facebook, the pair expanded efforts begun at their school, inviting students at city high schools to join their efforts at greening the city. They collected 700 signatures on a petition demanding that the new casino attain LEED-certified green status. They delivered the petition to Pittsburgh City Council, the mayor's office, the governor's office and the offices of PITG Gaming.

The students held a press conference June 11 outside the City-County Building, presenting their idea with the support of the Sierra Club, councilman Bill Peduto, and their teacher Patrick Dowd, who will join city council in January after winning the May primary and facing no opposition in November. The students say Gov. Ed Rendell's office, while commending their efforts, declined to get involved. A meeting with the mayor is in the works. But they say they've not heard back from PITG Gaming.

Bob Oltmanns, spokesperson for PITG, said he had heard about the girls' efforts through media reports. "We've been talking about a green building for quite a few months now," he says.

Oltmanns says that the building will likely adhere to most certification criteria -- for instance, using renewable or recycled building materials. But actual LEED certification is quite unlikely, Oltmanns says, for one simple reason: "The casino business is one that is characterized largely by smoking." So, no matter how green the actual building is, Oltmanns concedes, it won't be certified. LEED standards say that no smoking can be permitted in a certified building.

The students have succeeded in other environmentally friendly efforts, though. At their school, they began by posting reminders to recycle and turn off lights. "It's stuff you do in everyday life -- you don't take two-hour showers or brush your teeth with the water running," says Valdes. Last year, they teamed up to teach a two-week mini-course on the environment. They say they're pleased that a planned new middle school at Ellis will be a certified-green building.

This March, they set their sights citywide, first looking to the new Penguins hockey arena as a potentially green building. For that, they've teamed up with Pittsburgh United, a coalition aimed at getting community benefits for the Hill District.

The girls point to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the first green convention center and largest green building in the world. "We're already a symbol for this," says Hartkopf. "We should keep it up."

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By Mars Johnson