CARB Chairman Nichols apologizes over fraudulent researcher scandal

| 12/9/2009

CARB’s top official formally apologized Wednesday for a research scandal that may put the air quality’s expensive Truck and Bus regulation in limbo.

Written under the authority of Assembly Bill 32 – the 2006 law that addresses global warming – the truck and bus rule requires trucking fleets to acquire diesel particulate matter filters and upgrade their truck engines beginning in 2012. Most small trucking businesses, including fleets of one to three trucks, will be exempt until 2014.

During the past week, mainstream and trucking news sources learned that Hien Tran, a CARB statistician who was responsible for reporting on research justifying the Truck and Bus Rule that was approved in December 2008, falsified his resume and in fact has no formally recognized doctoral degree in statistics.

The lie was known by CARB staffers, some board members and Nichols herself for at least nine months before hitting major news sources.

During Wednesday’s monthly CARB board meeting, Chairman Mary Nichols admitted she knew of Tran’s lies before the board approved the Truck and Bus Rule and said she should have shared the information with the entire board.

“The fact is, this was a mistake on my part,” Nichols said. “I should have shared this information with my fellow board members. If I were in their shoes, I would want all the relevant information myself. My mistake in judgment, though honestly intended, led some others to make unjustified claims. All I can say is I apologize.”

Nichols criticized Tran’s mistakes but defended CARB’s decision not to fire him even as she acknowledged the damage the agency has suffered.

“His professional reputation is ruined,” Nichols said. “The stain that he created can’t so easily be erased.”

Nichols suggested a public review of the study in February.

The apology didn’t go far enough for Board Members Dr. John Telles and Ron Roberts, who were critical of Nichols’ approach.

“The report was written – over 50 percent of it – by an author who has misrepresented his education,” Telles said. “To me, that means the report is not acceptable.”

Roberts appeared to be surprised that CARB didn’t fire Tran and called for a full public hearing to determine more about the fraudulent research and potential cover-up of information.

“I’m not going to have to apologize for my being concerned about the dishonesty that’s involved in this issue,” Roberts said. “This board is dependent on a public trust to not only those that agree with us, but also those who are regulated and disagree with us. I think the actions of Mr. Tran and members of this board and members of this staff have done a disservice and have injured that public trust.”

CARB Board Member John Balmes said he believes the science supporting the Truck and Bus Rule won’t change, but said the events surrounding CARB staff’s research made new research of the rule necessary.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer