Protesters see deal with BP as Big Oil’s Trojan horse for Cal

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Accusing UC Berkeley of selling out to the oil industry, about 40 protesters with a makeshift, 8-foot-high Trojan horse demonstrated on campus Thursday against the $500 million contract between petroleum giant BP and a research partnership headed by Cal.

The demonstrators also poured molasses on the sidewalk to represent petroleum or biofuel.

One protester dressed as a “BP vampire” pretended to suck up the goop and told another demonstrator representing a developing country: “We’re stealing food from you to feed our SUVs.” Critics say the huge acreage needed for biofuel plants could displace food crops.

The target of the protest is the 10-year UC-BP deal, announced in February, that would fund research into biofuels and sources of cleaner and more economical energy.

The contract between BP, which is putting up the $500 million, and a partnership of Cal, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois, had been expected to be signed earlier this summer but ran into a delay, with university officials saying they expect it to be approved within two weeks.

Thursday’s protest began on campus and moved across the street to the sidewalk in front of the Bancroft Hotel, where a 6-foot swath of molasses was poured.

The hotel is hosting a two-day conference beginning today on biofuels and agriculture. It is co-sponsored by the newly established Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), created to carry out much of the BP-funded research.

UC Berkeley is becoming an extension campus of Big Oil U,” John Simpson of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said at the protest.

Most of the demonstrators, wearing “I didn’t enroll in UC-BP” T-shirts, appeared to be UC students. They say the university’s research agenda is being set by corporate interests.

Defending the BP arrangement was Cal Professor David Zilberman, director of the Center for Sustainable Resource Development and host of the conference on biofuels and agriculture.

“I think (the energy institute), if it is successful, would be great for the environment,” he said after the protest.

Zilberman said the university’s expertise can help solve major problems facing the world and that academic-corporate cooperation can not only support needed research that the university lacks money to conduct but also enable the research to have a real-world impact.

The institute “is like the ladder that brings the ivory tower to reality,” he said.

Stanford biologist Chris Somerville, who is expected to move to Berkeley and head the energy institute, said the BP funding is not diverting the university’s research agenda but helping to realize it.

“The overwhelming support by the Berkeley faculty for the EBI research process is a good indication of the pent-up demand for funding in the area of renewable energy research,” he said.

Dan Kammen, a professor in the campus Energy and Resources Group and a key organizer of the EBI project, said he sympathizes with many points raised by protesters and that the contract with BP should respect “the issues of open access, and a research agenda set by university researchers, not simply a private company.”

Speaking against the BP arrangement at the protest were anthropology Professor Laura Nader, who said she came to Berkeley “to teach at a public university, not a corporatized university,” and insect biology Professor Miguel Altieri, who said biofuels will have devastating environmental impacts, including destruction of food-growing land, resulting in higher food prices and hunger.

Consumer Watchdog
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