Cabinet reshuffle: Who are the new green ministers?

The UK's new energy and environment ministers opposed green energy: Matthew Hancock called for cuts to wind power subsidies while Liz Truss claimed renewable power was damaging the economy.

The new set of Conservative environment and energy ministers announced on Tuesday bring a track record of opposing renewable energy, having fought against wind and solar farms, enthusiastically backed fracking and argued that green subsidies damage the economy. 

New energy minister, Matthew Hancock, signed a letter to David Cameron in 2012 demanding that subsidies for onshore windfarms were slashed. “I support renewable energy but we need to do it in a way that gives the most value for money and that does not destroy our natural environment,” he said at the time. 

Hancock, who takes over from Michael Fallon, also opposed new turbines in his Suffolk constituency, arguing: “The visual and other impact of the proposed turbines is completely unacceptable in this attractive rural corner of Suffolk.” 

Green taxes

New environment secretary and former Shell employee, Liz Truss, dismissed clean renewable energy as ‘extremely expensive’ and said it was damaging the economy during an appearance on BBC Question Time last October. 

“We do need to look at the green taxes because at the moment they are incentivising particular forms of energy that are extremely expensive,” she said. “I would like to see the rolling back of green taxes because it is wrong that we are implementing green taxes faster than other countries. We may be potentially exporting jobs out of the country as our energy is so expensive.” 

In 2009, as deputy director of the free-market thinktank Reform, Truss said energy infrastructure in Britain was being damaged by politicians’ obsession with green technology: “Vast amounts of taxpayers’ money are being spent subsidising uneconomic activity,” she said. Research from the London School of Economics recently concluded that green policies were not harming economic growth. 

Truss will have a key role in regulating the environmental safety of shale gas exploration and has said fracking would benefit people living nearby. “We need to make sure shale gas is being exploited in this country, which will benefit local communities,” she said on BBC Question Time. As well as fracking, Truss backed “renewable” nuclear power as a way to “hit green targets”. 

Contentious issues

In her first statement since being appointed as environment secretary, Truss said: “I look forward to tackling the important issues facing our rural communities including championing British food, protecting people from flooding and improving the environment.” She did not mention fracking or the controversial badger cull, which she has supported in parliamentary votes. 

Truss, Hancock and another new appointee to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, all face conflicts between their new ministerial responsibilities and their previous constituency work. 

Truss has spoken out about insufficient flood protection for farmland in her Norfolk South West constituency. But she is now responsible for flood defences and faces a £500m hole in the budget needed to keep pace with the rising flood risk being driven by climate change. 

Truss has also been a vocal opponent of an energy-from-waste project – an incinerator – at Kings Lynn. She has opposed solar farms being built and also complained the energy secretary Ed Davey that subsidies helping crops to used to generate energy was making straw difficult to get for pig farmers. 

One of the most contentious issues Truss faces will be over the badger cull. Her East Anglian constituency is far from the bovine TB hotspots in the west of the UK, but she has been keenly involved in rural issues – for instance, she is pro-hunting. 

Killing badgers

Lord Krebs, chair of the sub-group of the Committee on Climate Change that looks at adaptation to the effects of global warming, said at a meeting of the all-party environment group in Westminster on Tuesday that he would wait for a private conversation with Truss before advising her on that. 

But he did say that he would offer his advice on badgers and bovine TB – a subject which the prominent zoologist examined in detail for the previous  Labour government, finding that a cull was not likely to solve the problem. 

He told the Guardian: “I would say don’t be so focused on killing badgers (as a way of controlling the disease) but go back and look at all the policy options.” 

Hancock has opposed both windfarms and new housing developments, while Rudd has raised her constituents safety fears about the Dungeness nuclear power plant in her constituency. Rudd, whose represents the coastal constituency of Hastings and Rye, has been praised by campaigners for supporting sustainable fishing and has raised questions about how government energy efficiency programmes would help social housing. 

The Renewable Energy Association said it looked forward to working with Truss, Hancock and Rudd. The trade body’s chief executive, Dr Nina Skorupska, said of the outgoing Greg Barker, who Rudd replaces: “Not only did he bring stability to the department, he also brought passion and enthusiasm.” 

Truss, Hancock and Rudd appear not to have made any public statements about climate change. 

Damian Carrington and Fiona Harvey 

This article first appeared in the Guardian 

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

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