Coalition in danger of being ‘oiliest government ever’

The Cameron administration has had firm aspirations to be the 'greenest government ever', but the reality is turning out to be quite different. Alongside having a transport secretary who advocates gas-guzzling changes to public policy and continuing to encourage road-building in a time of austerity, they have announced that the person almost certain to head up the coalition's environemt and energy policy is a former BP policy advisor.

The Cameron administration has a firm aspiration to be the ‘greenest government ever‘, but the reality is turning out to be quite different. Alongside having a transport secretary who advocates gas-guzzling changes to public policy, and continuing to encourage road-building in a time of austerity, it turns out that the person almost certain to head up the coalition’s environment and energy policy is a former BP policy advisor.

Ben Moxham is currently working at the Riverstone  private equity group which focuses on energy investment. In line with civil service practice, he has been put forward on a short list of one by civil servants for approval by the prime minister and Nick Clegg.

Moxham was previously director of policy of BP’s alternative energy department and part of the team pledged to move BP  ‘Beyond Petroleum’. However, the initiative concerned environmental campaigners as ineffective.

The department was shut down almost a year before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but BP’s credibility on environmental matters was undermined before that. Its trumpeted £1 million investment in alternative energy in 2008 included natural gas-fired power stations and carbon trading.

Once these were removed, only 7 per cent of its investments could be said to be in renewables.

While the alternative energy department was up and running, BP pulled out of wind power in the UK and withdrew from a government competition to find a viable technology for capturing and burying carbon dioxide emmissions from coal-fired power stations.

Moxham will be joining former oil hands in government that include:

• Business secretary Vince Cable, who was chief economist at Royal Dutch Shell;

• International development minister Alan Duncan, who was a trader for Royal Dutch Shell;

• Foreign office minister Lord Howell, President of the British Institute of Energy Economists and chairman of the Windsor Group, which aims to ‘build bridges between public and private sector on energy policy’;

• Oil and gas tax advisor Tim Eggar, who has worked for several oil companies including Indago Petroleum, Agip UK and Expro International and Monument Oil and Gas, where he was chief executive.

Working in the oil industry should not be a bar to working in government, and it may be that Moxham was one of the ‘good guys in the room’ at BP. Accusations of some sort of conspiracy are overblown. The problem, however, is that some sort of ‘groupthink’ may take over, as seen in the defence industry and as threatened in healthcare.

There are already signs this may be occuring in energy policy with Chris Huhne’s widely-criticised endorsement of the BP-Rosneft deal, which appeared to take place without the minister having fully investigated  aspects of the agreement relating to environmental responsibility and corruption.

All governments have to tackle problems of potential interest capture. But for the ‘greenest government ever’ to be recruiting oil company alumni to head up environment and energy policy, given that the industry is already well-represented around the table, seems very odd indeed.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.