Thursday, December 08, 2011

Coalition takes greenwash to a new level

ConDem coalition energy policy is being made on the run, in secret and in cahoots with the energy corporations. The self-styled “greenest-ever government” is engaged in a behind-the-scenes dash for fossil fuel and nuclear.

Here’s the evidence for the prosecution:

1. Having closed down one loss-making fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield, the government has announced plans to build another at a cost of £3bn of taxpayers’ money. So much for claims that new nuclear plants will have to be financed privately, including dealing with waste. The plant will try to transform Britain’s stockpile of nuclear waste into mox (mixed-oxide) fuel for a new generation of thermal light water reactors. As Douglas Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: "This proposal will lead to a subsidised plant creating subsidised fuel so that subsidised operators can produce subsidised electricity and then receive subsidised waste disposal. The only winners in this are the nuclear operators, already rich with their 18% domestic fuel price rises this year."

2. The government has been passing on details of Greenpeace’s legal challenge to new nuclear plants, to the Nuclear Industry Association and even directly to French nuclear giant EDF, the most likely candidate to build any new plants. Greenpeace has complained to the High Court and says it is an abuse of power that “prevents democratic scrutiny”.

3. Green MP Caroline Lucas has exposed oil and nuclear industry penetration and influence in Whitehall. She has found that 50 employees from companies like EDF, Npower and Centrica have been seconded to work on energy issues in government departments, free of charge, over the past four years. "Companies such as the big six energy firms do not lend their staff to government for nothing – they expect a certain degree of influence, insider knowledge and preferential treatment in return," said Lucas, who also found that the government had met with the “big six” producers and the power trade associations almost 200 times since the May 2010 election.

4. The government has been covertly passing information to Canadian diplomats lobbying to stop the European Union classifying oil extracted from tar sands as having a heavy carbon footprint - which of course it does. This would make the oil less attractive to European fuel suppliers, trying to meet requirements under the Fuel Quality Directive.

5. In his autumn statement, Chancellor Osborne took £1bn out of the budget that had been set aside to develop carbon capture and storage to spend on other new infrastructure. He promised £250m of public money to help industries with high emissions of greenhouse gas subvert EU carbon caps, and also pledged a review of “green regulations” to “clear the way for development and economic growth”. In other words, dump them all.

6. The draft rules for the government’s much-vaunted Green Investment Bank would not allow it carry through a plan to make millions of homes more energy efficient. Instead the bank will have to invest on commercial terms and show a profit. As a result, it is unlikely to invest in areas that are good for the environment, but deemed too risky by other lenders, though that was supposed to be the point. The bank’s funding is no longer put at £3bn but “up to £3bn” and it will not start operating until 2016 at the earliest.

We hereby find this government guilty of greenwash, building extensively on the example of their New Labour predecessors, and we award environment secretary Chris Huhne the “hypocrite of the year award 2011”. How do they sleep at night? No problem because they are fulfilling their role as they see it - promoting growth at all costs during what is rapidly turning into a global slump of the capitalist system.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

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