Henry Clay High School shows environmental leadership

As the nation debates limiting greenhouse gases to curb climate change, students at Henry Clay High School are tackling air pollution in their own way.

A smoke detector has been installed in one restroom, and there are plans to put them in all restrooms.

"You can pass all the laws you want ... but there are still kids smoking in bathrooms," said Catherine Mannon, founder and president of the school's Go Green Club.

Catherine was one of the speakers Wednesday night at a ceremony recognizing Henry Clay as one of the first schools in the state to complete the Kentucky Green & Healthy Schools program.

To qualify, students conducted inventories in various areas related to the environment, then designed programs to make changes:

■ For water quality, the students created two rain gardens. The second was completed just last Saturday, by 25 students working in the rain.

■ For green spaces, they planted flowers and shrubs at various places around the school.

■ For health and safety, they created what was billed as the first annual health expo. Speakers included an allergist, a diabetes expert and representatives from the Lexington Farmers Market and the Good Foods Co-op.

■ For energy, they worked with a school technician to decrease the brightness setting on computers and set the computers to go into sleep mode sooner.

Tresine Logsdon, a biology teacher who advises the Go Green club, said those painless changes will save an estimated $18,000 in electricity costs each year. Moreover, she said, 200 fewer tons of carbon dioxide, blamed as a leading cause of climate change, will be put into the environment.

Catherine Mannon joked that the money could be used to buy more textbooks to replace "the ones my parents used in the stone age."

State officials said five schools have completed all the requirements to become a Green & Healthy School. Henry Clay is the first high school to make it. Several more schools are expected to qualify before a ceremony scheduled for May 19.

Wednesday's program included Mayor Jim Newberry, who holds a non-partisan office; State Finance Secretary Jonathan Miller, a Democrat; George Pataki, the former Republican governor of New York; and leaders of the school's Young Democrats and Young Republicans clubs, who put forth the message that the environment trumps political parties.

Pataki was invited by Kelly Knight, a civic activist and Republican fund-raiser, whose daughter Jane Brady Knight is involved with the Henry Clay's Young Republicans.

Pataki was governor of New York from 1995 to 2006. He was known for preserving open space and for a regional effort to cap emissions of greenhouse gases.

He has recently been critical of President Obama, and a visit to Iowa last week was seen as a possible opening gambit in a presidential bid. He also is said to be considering a run for the U.S. Senate from New York.

Asked about that after the program, Pataki criticized Obama on several points but said he likes the president's energy policies.

He also said he has been linked to all sorts of political aspirations.

"I am running for nothing at this point," he said. "All I'm doing is trying to steer this country in the right direction, add my voice to those out there who are trying to instill some fiscal restraint and don't look to Washington to solve all the problems that we as a nation face."