‘We will only improve the environment if we improve the economy.’ Owen Paterson demonstrated the government’s new environmental mantra at a Policy Exchange fringe event this evening, discussing how we can build a sustainable green economy. The new Environment Secretary said that he will only pursue technologies that will make a positive contribution to the economy:
‘We should not be frightened of major projects brought in to improve the economy, because by improving the economy, we generate the funds to improve the environment. And if we are imaginative we can also bring the two together. The two are, empathically,not mutual exclusive.
‘It’s got to be sustainable…which means it has to minimise waste, use resources in the most efficient manner or someone else will do it better than us’
Despite stating that power production was really a matter for the Department of Energy, Paterson took a swipe at the subsidies handed out at a national level for sustainable energy production, highlighting his own battle with wind farms:
‘I’m very clear that there are significant impacts on the rural economy and rural environment from some renewable technologies.You have to be careful with politicians choosing technologies to steer people by subsidy.
‘It is very much horses for courses; politicians don’t blunder in and steer certain technologies. Most of these technologies are now mature and should stand on their own two feet’
But the Environment Secretary was very keen to extoll the virtues of shale gas:
‘…the extraordinary second windfall, which is completely God-given, that this country has got is shale gas. Shale gas has completely transformed the energy economy of the United States. It has massively reduced the carbon output…it buys you time. They pretty rapidly brought in shale gas, with a massively beneficial impact.
‘What worries me at the moment is that we are under pressure to close down old coal plants but I think what we want is as wide a variety of sources as possible.
‘I wouldn’t want to be dependent on any one technology. I do think we should not be frightened of shale gas and not be alarmed, of which a lot of is exaggerated.’
Paterson’s comments clash vividly with what the Energy Secretary said at the Lib Dem conference two weeks ago. Although both ministers are keen to stress the vital future of green technologies, Davey appears to believe it has to be good for the environment, while Paterson believes it has to be good financially. Expect to see this battle develop further between the coalition partners.