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Peak Oil and the Ministry of Transportation

This week I received a response to my Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Transportation in British Columbia. My request read:

Under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, I am requesting information including Ministry staff and/or consultant reports, Ministerial briefings, memorandums, emails, or other records on the topic of peak oil (declining fossil fuel availability, the price of oil, gas and diesel, and other related topics) and the impact on highway traffic volumes, traffic design standards, alternative transportation options and road maintenance and construction funding.

My intention in asking for this stemmed from a search on the Ministry of Transportation website for the phrase “Peak Oil” to which there are no results. I thought that surely it is in the public’s best interests to know what the Ministry intends to do with its assets worth billions of dollars (that are still being expanded), and can be maintained only with cheap, plentiful oil – not the likely situation in years to come, so I went through the Freedom of Information channel…

Peak Oil Search on Ministry of Transportation Website

foippApparently I bit off more than I can chew, and received an estimate that the cost of retrieving and photocopying this information was going to be $805.00. Click on the image to the right for an excerpt of the response.

If I am to proceed, I have three options:

  1. Pay the $805
  2. Reduce the scope of my request, and see what the fee comes out to.
  3. Request that the fee be waived under Section 75 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

So I’ve decided on option three (I’m not just going to spend $805 to find this information out without a fight), which, as the letter points out, it is my responsibility to request the fees be waived. This request is guided by an inquiry from 1999 called Order 332. Section 3.3 has this guidance:

  1. The head of the public body must examine the requested records and decide whether they relate to a matter of public interest (a matter of public interest may be an environmental or public health or safety matter, but matters of public interest are not restricted to those kinds of matters). The following factors should be considered in making this decision:

    (a) has the subject of the records been a matter of recent public debate?;
    (b) does the subject of the records relate directly to the environment, public health or safety?;
    (c) could dissemination or use of the information in the records reasonably be expected to yield a public benefit by:

    (i) disclosing an environmental concern or a public health or safety concern?;
    (ii) contributing to the development or public understanding of, or debate on, an important environmental or public health or safety issue?; or
    (iii) contributing to public understanding of, or debate on, an important policy, law, program or service?;

    (d) do the records disclose how the public body is allocating financial or other resources?

  2. If the head of a public body, as a result of the analysis outlined in paragraph 1, decides the records relate to a matter of public interest, the head must still decide whether the applicant should be excused from paying all or part of the estimated fee. In making this decision, the head should focus on who the applicant is and on the purpose for which the applicant made the request. The following factors should be considered in doing this:

    (a) is the applicant’s primary purpose for making the request to use or disseminate the information in a way that can reasonably be expected to benefit the public or is the primary purpose to serve a private interest?
    (b) is the applicant able to disseminate the information to the public?

I have a couple of more days before I need to respond, and I am thinking that it is in the public interest to see this information released from the perspective of an environmental concern, and to improve knowledge of Ministry policy to continue expanding road ways and requiring traffic simulations to account for increasing traffic, rather than, as many scientists and economists involved in researching the impacts of peak oil and climate change state, it is likely that there will be less traffic on the roads in the medium to long term.

Do you think they have any documents on this issue that they are hiding? Or do you think they have not had the opportunity to contemplate just what a future like this might actually entail for their ministry?

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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