Britain can finally make the dash for gas with Paterson

Benny Peiser is director of the Global Warming Policy Forum. 

DAVID Cameron has promised to end his government’s “dithering” and “paralysis”. As part of this, yesterday’s reshuffle was intended to kick-start new initiatives for reviving Britain’s flagging economy.

One of the key political battle grounds in coming months will be the growing divergence between an outdated green agenda and a new push for environmental deregulation and economic growth.

George Osborne has signalled that the UK should no longer place too much emphasis on renewable energy and is openly advocating a dash for gas. The government is widely expected to give the green light for the extraction of shale gas. The only question is how much longer we will have to wait.

Britain is sitting on a gold mine of shale reserves, but politicians have continuously impeded their extraction. The shale boom is spreading across the world, where the exploitation of huge deposits is speeding up. Even Russian companies are joining the revolution in a bid to secure the country’s export market.

In sharp contrast to these global developments, the government has been dithering on domestic shale production. As a result, Britain has failed to take advantage of its substantial deposits. Instead of benefiting from cheap shale gas, lower carbon dioxide emissions, new industries and thousands of new jobs, the UK is ignoring a golden opportunity.

It is in this context that the appointment of Owen Paterson as the UK’s new environment secretary is fuelling concerns among environmental campaigners. They fear that the government’s green agenda is being scaled back in order to refocus on economic recovery.

Yesterday, environmental journalists warned that the reshuffle has effectively terminated “the greenest government ever.” Some have argued that Paterson’s appointment marks a sharp turn from the green policies that had previously found a home in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

In the past, Paterson has proposed an end to all energy subsidies and a speedy development of domestic shale gas reserves. His endorsement of shale exploration is particularly pertinent, since DEFRA is responsible for the Environment Agency, which is in charge of regulating and policing shale gas ventures.

Most crucially, the government intends to publish a new Economy Bill in the next few days, detailing a major deregulation of the planning system. Paterson will be responsible for the deregulation of environmental assessments, allowing fast-tracked developments.

In light of Britain’s struggling economy, it is becoming increasingly evident that the passion for green control and command policies is coming to its predictable end. Saving jobs and the economy is now the uppermost priority for Britain and most other European countries.

Restricting shale gas is not saving the planet and it’s impoverishing Britain’s families and companies. Paterson must act fast.

Benny Peiser is the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

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