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Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett: 'Now is the time to listen to ordinary people again'

Published on The Guardian website on 21st August 2015

Story by John Vidal

They tried to influence government – but it stopped working. So now the new boss of Friends of the Earth is taking a more radical approach. And, as he predicts a storm of protest over a massive expansion of fracking, he’s ready to take on George Osborne in an ‘ideological war’

Craig Bennet

‘I would expect massive protests over fracking’ … Craig Bennett, the new chief executive officer of Friends of the Earth. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

For someone who spent the night celebrating a Welsh community’s rejection of a giant opencast coal mine, Craig Bennett seems pretty clear-headed.

The new head of Friends of the Earth (FoE) may not have known the words of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Welsh national anthem, but he sang them along with ex-miners in the Blast Furnace Inn pub in Pontlottyn, he says, and the experience of working with them and others to reject the Nant Llesg mine rammed home the point that environmental groups must become relevant again to all kinds of people.

“We were one gang together in the Blast Furnace,” he says. “The point is, the Nant Llesg mine was going to extract 6m tonnes of coal, and it’s obviously a massive climate change issue. But for local people it’s much more than that. It’s an air pollution and a health issue because of the dust it would cause; it’s an economic issue because of the jobs needed; it’s a social justice issue because all this Welsh community had been offered was more dirty jobs by a bully-boy company. It’s completely artificial to think that it’s only a climate issue.”

Continue reading Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett: ‘Now is the time to listen to ordinary people again’

1,000 sq miles of England to be opened up for fracking

Published on The Guardian website on 18th August 2015

Large areas of Yorkshire, north-west and east Midlands earmarked for oil and gas exploration as government announces it will offer licences for 27 new sites

Cameron Total Oil Visit Gainsborough, Lincolshire

Large areas of Yorkshire, the north-west and the east Midlands are to be opened up to fracking after the government announced it will offer a fresh round of licences for oil and gas exploration.

Areas near Leeds, Sheffield, Lincoln and Nottingham are to be offered to companies in an expansion plan that green groups predicted would trigger “hundreds of battles” over the future of the countryside.

Ineos, the Anglo-Swiss chemicals group that wants to lead the UK’s shale gas industry, was awarded three licences and said the latest ones could pave the way for gas to be pumped by 2020.

“If the planning system works as well as we hope, we should have meaningful production of shale gas in the UK by the end of the decade,” said Patrick Erwin, commercial director at Ineos.

The 2,700 sq km (1,040 sq miles) of land in 27 blocks of 10km x 10km will not be formally offered until a second much larger tranche, covering areas in the north-east, the West Country and the Isle of Wight believed to be ecologically sensitive, have been assessed under environmental measures.

The applications are subject to approval by local councils, which will have 16 weeks to decide on them. The government promised last week to step in if councils fail to keep to the deadline. The new guidance has given the secretary of state for communities, Greg Clark, the power to “call in” and fast track a ruling if deemed necessary.

Initial analysis by Greenpeace indicated the areas covered by the announcementwill affect the constituencies of high-profile MPs including former Labour leader Ed Miliband, party leadership candidate Yvette Cooper, the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, and the shadow energy and climate minister Caroline Flint.

Continue reading 1,000 sq miles of England to be opened up for fracking

The UK Goes Greyer

UK Map

Published on 3rd August 2015

In ten short weeks the new government is well ahead unpicking the last ten years of modest but steady progress on climate change. So far the tax break on clean cars has been abolished and changes made to the standards on zero carbon housing.

Subsidies for the cheapest forms of renewable energy have been scrapped while billions have been put aside for subsidising nuclear energy. And now the Green Deal which was meant to promote home energy efficiency and thus lower fuel bills has also been dumped. Planning laws are being amended almost continuously to make fracking easier following its democratic rejection in Lancashire and sensitive sites are no longer protected. To add to the list the government has decided to lift temporarily the EU ban on using neonicotinoids pesticides that kill bees and other pollinators.

More can be expected as the government demands extra savings from department responsible for the environment viewed by the likes of George Osborne as soft targets.

It was a leading Conservative who first warned that you did not achieve economic prosperity at the expense of the environment. Perhaps the new environment ministers, Liz Truss and Amber Rudd, should start by reading Mrs Thatcher’s speeches to the UN in the eighties.

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