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Student PIRGs

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Student PIRGs are left-of-center student-led groups which work to increase voter turnout on college campuses. 1 Affiliated with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), the groups focus mainly on toughening environmental regulations, placing restrictions on political donors, and securing government subsidy for affordable higher education. Student PIRGs are active in over 20 states with those in California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Missouri, and Maryland being especially notable. 2


The first student PIRG was founded in 1973 with its main headquarters based in Boston, Massachusetts. Each state PIRG works independently but unites over issues and supports campaigns from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG). 3

In 1976, the Missouri PIRG (MoPIRG) helped establish Missouri’s small-claims court. In 1984, student PIRGs worked together to create the National Student Campaign for Voter Registration and helped 750,000 students register to vote. In 1989, MASSPIRG wrote and helped pass the Toxics Use Reduction Act which requires all organizations in Massachusetts that use large amounts of toxic chemicals to report their usage, do toxic reduction planning every two years, and pay a fee. In 1994, CALPIRG helped pass the California Coastal Sanctuary Act which prohibited offshore drilling on the California coast. In 2000, then-President Bill Clinton announced a PIRG-backed plan to protect 60 million acres of national forest. In 2001, CALPIRG helped win a law giving $850 million for energy conservation and renewable energy and MASSPIRG won a ruling to reduce emission from diesel trucks and buses by 90 percent. Maryland PIRG helped pass legislation committing Maryland to have net zero emissions by 2045. 4


100% Renewable Energy

The 100% Renewable Energy campaign pushes for every campus in the United States to get all electricity from weather-dependent energy sources by 2050. Renewable energy meaning weather-based forms of power like wind turbines and solar panels. The group believes current energy companies “have demonstrated their ability and willingness to block the shift to clean energy.” 5

CALPIRG got the University of California to commit to getting all its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. The group also teamed up with Environment California to pass SB100, proposed California legislation committing California to getting all of its energy from weather-dependent sources by 2045. 6

Break Free from Plastic

The Break Free from Plastic campaign pushes for campus-wide, city-level, and statewide bans on single-use plastic items like foam cups and straws. 7 In 2014, CALPIRG helped pass a law in California that banned plastic grocery bags, and when it came up on the 2016 elections it campaigned and was able to keep it a law. In 2018, Student PIRGs in the northeastern United States got Dunkin Donuts to commit to stop using foam cups by 2020. 8

Democracy for the People

Student PIRGs’ Democracy for the People campaign calls for Congress to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. The group argues that expenditure on electoral advocacy should not count as speech and that corporations should not be considered legal people so they should have no influence in elections. 9

Student PIRGs have gotten 16 states and over 600 cities to formally request that Congress amend the constitution to overturn Citizens United. The group also works to make small donors more impactful in elections by creating systems with incentives for smaller donors. 10

New Voter Project

The New Voter Project is Student PIRGs’ associated 501(c)(3) and is a youth voter-mobilization program. The group uses emails, phone calls, letters, and face-to-face interactions to get college students around the United States to register to vote. It is active in over 20 states including competitive states like Arizona, Florida, and Wisconsin. 11

The New Voter Project partnered with Students Learn Student Vote Coalition, and works closely with ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, Campus Vote Project, Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, and the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education. These groups have worked together to make the New Voters Project Packet, which teaches how to get students interested in voting. It believes the main reason young people do not vote is due to not understanding how to vote for the first time, a lack of strong cultural civics, and administration of elections that make it difficult for new voters. 12

The goal of the New Voters Project is to have 100 percent voter participation on college campuses. The group expressed a goal of raising the 40.3 percent voter turnout from the 2018 election to 55 percent by the 2022 midterms. The group believes this can be achieved by institutionalizing voting on college campuses by having voter registration at new student orientation, in dorms, and during class registration, as well as creating voter education centers and encouraging early voting. 13


Student PIRGs support an increase in student grants from the federal government. In 2018, Student PIRGs started the #PellRaiser campaign which stopped Congress from making $2.6 billion in cuts to the Pell Grant fund, a federal scholarship fund which can award low-income students up to $6,000 each. 14

Student PIRGs started a campaign against antibiotic use in livestock. The groups claim that “overusing these drugs—in humans or animals—breeds bacteria resistant to the antibiotics, threatening the future effectiveness of these medicines, and putting our health at risk.” 15

Student PIRGs started the Save the Bees campaign. This campaign calls for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides because they get into plant pollen and can kill bees. 16


  1. “U.S. Pirg.” Ballotpedia. Accessed August 11, 2023. https://ballotpedia.org/U.S._PIRG.
  2. “Where We Are.” Student PIRGs, April 10, 2021. https://studentpirgs.org/where-we-are/.
  3. “Student Pirgs | LinkedIn.” LinkedIn. Accessed August 11, 2023. https://www.linkedin.com/company/student-pirgs/about/.
  4. “History.” Student PIRGs, March 6, 2019. https://studentpirgs.org/recent-victories/history/.
  5. “100% Renewable Energy.” Student PIRGs, October 6, 2021. https://studentpirgs.org/campaigns/100-renewable-energy/.
  6. “100% Renewable Energy.” Student PIRGs, October 6, 2021. https://studentpirgs.org/campaigns/100-renewable-energy/.
  7. “Break Free from Plastics.” Student PIRGs, November 30, 2020. https://studentpirgs.org/campaigns/break-free-from-plastics/.
  8.  [1] “Break Free from Plastics.” Student PIRGs, November 30, 2020. https://studentpirgs.org/campaigns/break-free-from-plastics/.
  9. “Democracy for the People.” Student PIRGs, June 1, 2020. https://studentpirgs.org/campaigns/democracy-people/.
  10. “Democracy for the People.” Student PIRGs, June 1, 2020. https://studentpirgs.org/campaigns/democracy-people/.
  11. “New Voters Project.” Student PIRGs, January 3, 2023. https://studentpirgs.org/campaigns/new-voters-project/.
  12. “New Voters Project National Project Packet 2022 – 2023.” Google Docs. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uUrPNt3PP_5zxfrevqiS3oBGVFPgXIGh99YD7ACI9Yc/edit
  13. “New Voters Project National Project Packet 2022 – 2023.” Google Docs. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uUrPNt3PP_5zxfrevqiS3oBGVFPgXIGh99YD7ACI9Yc/edit.
  14. “Affordable Higher Education.” Student PIRGs, March 10, 2021. https://studentpirgs.org/campaigns/affordable-higher-education/.
  15. “Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics.” Student PIRGs, March 22, 2021. https://studentpirgs.org/campaigns/stop-overuse-antibiotics/
  16. “Save the Bees.” Student PIRGs, March 15, 2019. https://studentpirgs.org/campaigns/save-the-bees/.
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