“…when people say, “The regulatory system is broken. It’s not protecting our health, safety and welfare.” And I say, “Well, maybe it’s not broken, but it’s working perfectly.” Because its goal is not necessarily to protect health, safety and welfare. The law has traditionally been used to shield corporations…” Thomas Linzey, US lawyer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
The Infrastructure Bill is now in the late stages of the legislative process. The next significant event is a consideration of proposed amendments by MPs in Parliament on 26 January 2015. The Bill contains a clause that puts a legal duty on the government and fossil fuel companies to ‘maximise economic recovery of UK petroleum.’ This means extracting as much oil and gas as possible. This will help ensure the profitability of fossil fuel companies, as the world burns, especially the UK fracking industry, and companies set up to exploit other forms of extreme energy, such as underground coal gasification (which involves setting coal seams on fire underground to release gas).
If the Bill passes in its current form, as expected, it will have profound implications. It’s a clear sign that the government has completely given up on climate change targets, it shows (if there was any doubt) that the oil and gas industry has more sway with the government than ordinary people, and it demonstrates the failure of mainstream environmental groups to hold the government to account on its legal commitment to reducing emissions. No-where in the Bill does it mention climate change. The objective of maximising economic recovery of oil and gas is mutually exclusive with the legal obligation of the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, as set out in first clause of the Climate Change Act 2008.
The Infrastructure Bill will lock us into high carbon infrastructure. (In fact the recommendation to maximise petroleum recovery comes from a government commissioned report – the Wood Review – written by a businessman who made his fortune running an oil services company). This is a crime against future generations when we urgently need to transition to a low carbon society and invest in renewable energy infrastructure. As George Monbiot put it, the Bill effectively makes it a legal duty to maximise emissions.
Green MP Caroline Lucas and Lib Dem MP Norman Baker proposed amendments to the Infrastructure Bill to delete clause 36 (which is the duty to maximise the economic recovery of petroleum). They also proposed deleting clauses 38-43, which change trespass law so that fracking companies can drill below people’s homes without consent and also allow companies to leave ‘any substance’ or infrastructure in the ground.
These are not the only concerns with the Bill, for example it provides the legal framework for massive investment in roads, even though poor air quality (mainly due to traffic) prematurely kills thousands in the UK each year – primarily in London (the UK government lost another legal battle in November 2014 in a case brought by ClientEarth – the European Court of Justice held that the UK Government must act to clean up illegal levels of pollution ‘as soon as possible’).
The Bill also allows ‘any public land’ (except forests now) to be transferred to a government quango – the Homes and Communities Agency (see Clause 28) – which is a privatising move. The Homes and Communities Agency can then sell on the land to developers.
Where does this leave us? History shows us that collective civil disobedience always plays the main role in forcing a harmful system to change. Because the law legalises the destruction of the natural world for private profit, frackers will need to be physically prevented, and we need a wide variety of actions to cause them economic and reputational damage.