Sierra Club Holds Forum on UC-BP Deal

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday March 20, 2007

Are UC Berkeley’s plans to unite with a British oil company in a quest for new biofuels good for the environment? 

That’s the topic for a Thursday night forum sponsored by the Sierra Club’s Northern Alameda County Group, said event organizer Helen Burke. 

The event, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., will feature four scholars: Paul Ludden, dean of Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources; Chris Somerville, who will be one of the lead investigators, a member of the Stanford biosciences faculty; John Harte, of UC Berkeley’s Energy Resources Group; and Ignacio Chapela, a member of Ludden’s faculty and a leading critic of the proposal. 

Burke, who also serves on the city’s planning commission, will chair the event. 

The focus of the forum is the $500 million planned compact between UC Berkeley and BP, the former British Petroleum. 

Funds from the agreement, to be parceled out over a decade, would be used to create the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), billed by the university as “the world’s premiere alternative energy research institute.” 

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus would be the primary subcontractors. 

Each speaker will have 10 minutes and will be given more time to comment on remarks from other panelists and to answer questions from the audience. 

Burke said she hopes these questions among others will be covered: Is reliance on biofuels to sustain current lifestyle habits in the best interest of the planet’s health? And could reliance on genetically modified organisms as fuels sources and producers create unintentional adverse environmental impacts? 

Doors will open at 7:10 p.m. A $5 donation is suggested. 

Burke said that while the Sierra Club is generally supportive of biofuels as alternatives to petroleum products, the club hasn’t taken a position on the UC-BP project.