Friday, November 9, 2007

Who’s watching the watchers?

A news story last week in the San Francisco Chronicle highlights an interesting question of ethics and a potential conflict of interest.

The University of California is considering signing a $500 million research contract paid for by BP, one of several big oil companies that continue to force you to make decisions like “should I take my kids to see grandma and grandpa this week or take them to the library?” because I can’t afford gas to both places.

I know this blog and Land Line Magazine’s Web site have seemed to harp on environmental issues in recent months, but there’s a reason.

The fight to keep trucking from being overgrown by duplicitous, overreaching regulations and to keep an even playing field for small businesses is being waged on a new front: the Green scheme.

Because the federal government hasn’t moved forward with emissions restrictions that help poor air quality areas like Los Angeles, Allegheny County, PA, and New York City, cities, counties and states are taking the bull by the horns and creating their own limits on everything from truck idling to access to ports to running reefer engines.

Just yesterday, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter announced Colorado will “fight global warming by adopting clean-car standards and tailpipe emissions among other standards similar to California’s plan by 2011. You’ve gotta believe trucking will be among the “devils in the details” when Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission sets the rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below current levels by 2050 or so, according to the Denver Post.

California – which has established itself as the leader in cutting diesel truck emissions – has repeatedly commissioned studies by the University of California and other state institutions as the foundation for regulations such as next year’s statewide five-minute limit on idling, and a plan to aggressively cut emissions from trucks that stop in California ports.

Daniel Sperling, a CARB board member, is a professor at UC-Davis, and worked extensively on a research project that is now being used to develop a low-carbon fuel standard. (At last check, CARB had not decided whether diesel fuel will be included in the new standard.)

To my original point – the contract calls for the formation of the Energy Biosciences Institute for research on biofuels and energy initiatives.

Groups such as Greenpeace USA and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights have publicly criticized the University for considering the research contract.

“The prospect of giant carbon polluters directing research related to and gaining control of key energy technologies is very troubling – especially when the research is conducted at, and the technologies are developed in collaboration with, public institutions,” the groups wrote in a letter to UC President Robert Dynes, according to the Chronicle.

You have to wonder what would motivate BP to shell out $500 million, and just what advantage they’ll have when new technologies and energy sources are mandated.