Climate campaigner ejected from Labour event sponsored by Drax power plant firm

Activists interrupt party conference debate to criticise company’s wood-burning biomass operations

An environmental campaigner has been ejected from an event sponsored by the power station operator Drax at the Labour party conference after criticising the company’s use of biomass.

The owner of the North Yorkshire power station sponsored a debate on Tuesday on Britain’s net zero climate goals on the fringes of the political party’s conference in Liverpool. The company’s group director of corporate affairs, Clare Harbord, was on the panel.

Climate campaigners have accused Drax of greenwashing and argue that its biomass operations, which burn wood to produce electricity, are far from green and can even increase the CO2 emissions driving the climate crisis.

The talk in Liverpool was titled “Reaching net zero: how can the UK boost energy security and invest in green jobs?”

Several campaigners interrupted the discussion to question Drax’s green credentials.

One woman was forcibly removed from the room while she said: “How can you talk about net zero and green jobs as the UK’s biggest carbon emitter and the world’s biggest tree burner?”

Another said: “As the largest carbon emitter in the UK, how can you talk about net zero and green jobs when you’re responsible for the destruction of forests around the world?”

Drax was accused of being part of a “culture of spin for climate criminals” by another audience member, who said: “How dare you be here, it’s a disgrace.”

The incident happened a day after the Guardian reported that the UK government had been accused of funding environmental racism by giving £2m a day in subsidies to an energy company that has paid out millions over claims it breached pollution limits in the US. Drax denies it committed any violations at its Louisiana plants, after agreeing to the settlements without accepting liability.

An investigation by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative unit, found Drax Biomass paid millions of dollars to US regulators over claims it exceeded limits on chemicals emissions at wood chip plants close to black and low-income communities.

One person at the Liverpool event referenced the report and said: “All you are doing is pushing this so you keep on burning trees and polluting communities. You’re polluting communities in southern America, in southern US … these are poor, mostly communities of colour and you are polluting them.”

The panel was originally due to include Alan Whitehead, the shadow minister for the green new deal and energy, but the shadow business and industry minister Bill Esterson attended instead.

Drax argues that its biomass is made from sawmill residues and low-grade wood left behind when forests are harvested for wood used in other sectors such as construction.

A Drax spokesperson said: “A very small number of people attending the event tried to disrupt the discussion and were unwilling to listen to the views of the panellists who were in agreement that in order to reach net zero the world needs to use a range of energy solutions including wind, solar, biomass and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage.

“Climate change is the biggest challenge this generation faces. Over the last decade Drax has reduced its carbon emissions from fossil fuels by almost 100% using sustainable biomass.”

Contributor

Alex Lawson Energy correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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