David Cameron's commitment to establish the coalition as the "greenest government ever" is already beginning to look like a looming hostage to fortune that will do his standing as much harm as good.
In a way it must have seemed like a low risk promise. The UK's domestic carbon emissions are in steady decline and the accelerating roll out of low carbon infrastructure is pretty much irreversible. As a result, virtually every metric will show that this government will be greener than the last, just as the previous government was greener than the one before that.
But a government's greenness is not just a matter of metrics, as important as they are. Every policy decision, every budget announcement, every off-the-cuff remark and carefully tailored ministerial speech will right be measured against Cameron's "greenest government ever" boast.
Which brings us neatly to Defra minister Lord Henley and his under-reported announcement yesterday that the coalition "is not minded" to pursue the previous government's proposals for tighter restrictions on the types of waste being sent to landfill.
The work of the "greenest government ever"? Not quite. Ideologically-driven scrapping of regulation following lobbying by old school waste management firms? Almost certainly.
The previous Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, had touted Defra's consultation on proposed restrictions to landfill waste as one of the most important pieces of work being undertaken by the department. The idea was simple: the government would either ban or restrict material being sent to landfill that could be more productively recycled or used as fuel. Glass, wood, plastics, food, paper and textiles could all be restricted or even banned from being sent to landfill, slashing the amount of waste sent to landfill while simultaneously boosting some of the worst recycling rates in Europe.
Benn accepted the restrictions would have to be carefully targeted and phased in over time to ensure that the recycling and waste-to-energy plants needed to process the waste could be built. But he was confident that relatively simple legislation could provide a huge boost to the recycling sector, help establish waste as a valuable resource, and ensure the UK met its landfill targets.
Scotland and Wales are continuing to look at the idea, but England will now not even pursue a trial to see if restrictions would indeed boost recycling. Why not? Because the "greenest government ever" wants to wait and see if the increases to the landfill tax and other waste measures deliver sufficient cuts in landfill waste before doing anything as ambitious as introducing modest restrictions on some recyclable materials being sent to landfill.
Coincidentally, this is precisely the argument put forward by lobbyists for those companies that make money from landfill, who have argued that any restrictions on landfill would be "unnecessary and highly impractical" given recycling rates are improving and they already have to deal with the landfill tax.
Instead they argued that the government should focus on making it easier to build more recycling capacity, conveniently ignoring the fact that this is not an either or equation, along with the fact restricting some materials from being sent to landfill would significantly boost the business case for those new recycling and waste-to-energy plants they claim they want.
Lord Henley's department has promised to deliver a waste policy review in spring next year offering its take on the current regulatory regime. If the coalition really wants to be seen as the "greenest government ever", then it had better contain some pretty ambitious proposals.
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