Tory MP urged to quit job as adviser to ‘climate denier’ US fossil fuel firm

Critics say Mark Pritchard’s £46,800-a-year role with Linden Energy is ‘highly concerning’

A Tory MP has been urged to quit his second job as a £325-an-hour adviser to a US fossil fuel firm after the company was accused of using “classic climate denial” tactics to delay action on the climate crisis.

Mark Pritchard, 55, Conservative MP for the Wrekin in Shropshire, took on a role providing “strategic communications advice” to Linden Energy Holdings in May, official records show. He will be paid £46,800 a year for working 12 hours a month through his consulting company, Map Advisory.

Documents obtained by the Observer suggest Texas-based Linden Energy – founded by a former lobbyist for George Bush – pushed for the increased use of fossil fuels while downplaying the role of carbon emissions in the climate crisis.

In a November 2021 presentation entitled “The reality of climate change”, Linden Energy’s chief operating officer, Ray Leonard, emphasises non-human factors in global warming and claims it is “virtually impossible” to avoid 2C warming by 2050, before arguing for more investment in natural gas.

While there is no suggestion of wrongdoing, the findings have led to renewed calls for tighter rules on MPs’ second jobs, as well as fresh concerns about fossil fuel lobbying.

Scientists have been warning of potentially catastrophic climate breakdown since the 1980s, but attempts by industry lobbyists to cast doubt on the science have been blamed for delaying the responses of governments around the world.

Last year, following a series of lobbying scandals, Boris Johnson gave his backing to proposals to clamp down on MPs taking second jobs as consultants and lobbyists. The plans were later dropped.

This weekend, the Green Party called on Pritchard to quit his role with Linden, while Edward Collins, a director at the InfluenceMap thinktank, which tracks lobbying by polluting industries, described the issue as “highly concerning”. “Tactics like retaining serving politicians for consultancy advice are part of a well-developed playbook from the fossil fuels industry,” he said.

Linden Energy Holdings was founded in 2013 by Steve Payne, a former adviser to George W Bush. He resigned in 2008 in a scandal involving him being secretly taped offering access to top White House figures in exchange for a $250,000 donation.

The company is understood to have several projects under consideration in Europe and last year bought a majority stake in Overgas, Bulgaria’s biggest gas company. It has also led ventures to exploit natural gas reserves in Africa, including drilling deep-water exploration wells off the coast of Guinea.

Another company under the Linden umbrella, Linden Strategies, specialises in government relations, strategic communications and political consulting, and has clients across several sectors. Its slogan is: “Complex Issues. Discrete Strategies. Winning Results.” Payne is president of both companies.

In the internal Linden Energy documents, understood to be part of the company’s pitch to potential clients, the firm is accused of using “well known climate delay tactics” including “doomism”, the suggestion that it is not possible to avert global warming so mitigation is futile.

Linden’s presentation argues that averting 2C temperature rise by the 2050s is “virtually impossible”, and that the steps needed have “no realistic possibility of being accomplished”.

a natural gas storage facility in Bierwang, southern Germany.
The company urges a transition to natural gas. Photograph: Lennart Preiss/AFP/Getty Images

It also devotes several slides to the “many factors” that have caused the climate crisis, emphasising “natural causes” and showing temperature change graphs over millions of years – despite the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s finding that almost 100% of warming since the 1950s has been caused by humans.

The presentation concludes by calling for more investment in fossil fuels and says a transition to natural gas could make “the biggest difference now” in reducing carbon emissions. Natural gas is cleaner than oil and coal, but experts say all fossil fuels must be phased out.

Mark Maslin, a professor of Earth system science at University College London, said Linden Energy’s presentation was “riddled with soft denial” and appeared to be “a continuation” of attempts by the fossil fuel industry to delay action on the climate emergency. “It’s saying, ‘Oh well, it’s not really all about greenhouse gases, so you don’t have to worry so much,’ and ‘Climate change is happening but it’s impossible [to avert], so let’s not worry about it.’ This is classic denial 101,” he said.

The Green Party co-leader, Adrian Ramsay, said it was unacceptable that a serving MP could be working for a firm that “appeared to be peddling climate denialism designed to keep us all reliant on oil and gas” at a time when “the UK is seeing the effects of climate inaction”, with soaring energy bills and extreme heat.

“The interests of fossil fuel companies should have no place at the heart of our democracy,” he said. “I would urge the government to force Mr Pritchard to choose between his new job in the industry and his position as an MP.”

There are also questions over why Pritchard’s role, listed in the MPs’ register of interests, was not declared until July. According to the entry, he was first paid by Linden Energy on 6 June. but took up the role on 1 May.

MPs are required to register all relevant interests, not just financial ones, within 28 days, including “any interest which someone might reasonably consider to influence their actions or words as an MP”.

Neither Pritchard nor Linden Energy Holdings responded to formal requests for comment. In a phone call with the Observer, Ray Leonard said his views were shared by many and that his presentation did not emphasise non-human factors or use “climate denial” tactics but “showed the data”.


Shanti Das

The GuardianTramp

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