When Chu Chose BP

Energy Secretary-designate Steven Chu "seems about as climate friendly as they come," writes Josh Harkinson, but "more industry friendly than his rhetoric suggests." As the director of the Energy Department-funded Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Chu helped broker "the largest university-industry alliance in U.S. history, the $500 million Energy Biosciences Institute." The biofuels research institute involves the Berkeley lab, two public universities and oil giant BP. Chu pitched BP's deal to the UC-Berkeley Academic Senate, one-third of whose members voted against it. Chu also promoted the institute on campus, saying "money" was the only reason more biofuels research wasn't already underway. The university's compromise agreement gave BP half of the seats on the board governing the institute. As Energy Secretary, Chu will likely "face pressure to partner with corporations in pursuing technological solutions to climate change," notes Harkinson. "As the incoming Obama administration prepares to spend liberally to develop cleaner sources of energy, the structure of corporate-government partnerships will determine how the profits of that research return to taxpayers, and how rigorously scientists evaluate the downsides of controversial technologies such as biofuels."