Oil & Energy Minister under siege

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Norway’s relatively new government minister in charge of oil and energy, Ola Borten Moe, has managed to infuriate the Norwegian environmental movement to a degree rarely seen in local political debate. Some of Norway’s top environmental advocates are calling for Moe’s resignation, and he’s also upset members of his own small Center Party.

Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe is relatively young and new in the job, but environmentalists aren't excusing him for the offense he's caused. PHOTO: Center Party

The Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) likes to bill itself as environmentally friendly and its leaders are known for sporting green jackets when posing with other members of Norway’s Labour-led government coalition. But the party’s record is spotty. While party leaders earlier have opposed drilling for oil off scenic Lofoten in northern Norway, they also support hunting down predators like wolves. They were slow to accept conservation of a large forest area called Trillemarka and have supported development projects like the controversial power lines over the Hardanger Fjord. In short, it can be argued, they promote environmental issues as long as they don’t hinder the economic interests of their main supporters, many of them farmers and landowners in rural areas. And that often puts them at odds with their own government partners, Labour and the environmentally high-profile Socialist Left party (SV).

(From left): Ola Borten Moe, Crown Prince Haakon and Statoil CEO Helge Lund visiting the Peregrino oil field off Brazil. Environmentalists think Moe has been favouring oil over other sources of energy. PHOTO: Statoil

Now Moe, who took over his post in March, has made it clear he supports more oil exploration and drilling, possibly even around Lofoten and at a time when Norway’s carbon emissions keep rising instead of being cut as promised. He also supports the so-called “monster masts” and angered opposition politicians and animal rights activists last month when he claimed that fur farms were trying to “clean up” their operations and that he doubted anything would come of proposals to shut the fur industry down.

On Wednesday, Moe went even further when he harshly criticized environmental organizations and they interpreted his criticism as a declaration of war on the environmental movement. WWF started advertising for a new “responsible” energy minister for Norway, claiming that Moe concentrates only on oil and supports polluting fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Bellona calls Moe ‘our enemy’
Fredric Hauge, head of the internationally acclaimed environmental group Bellona, ended up calling Moe a “liar” and “our enemy” in a remarkably heated debate on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Hauge said he was cutting all contact with the government until either Moe apologized or resigned as oil minister.

Several others also are unhappy with Moe, including Arild Hermstad of the group Fremtiden i våre hender (The future in our hands). “He is unfortunately becoming a major climate problem, both for Norway and for the government,” Hermstad told NRK. “He has to drop his rhetoric, and he has to adopt other political methods than those he has shown in recent days.”

The enviromentalists’ complaints have disturbed several of Moe’s own colleagues in the Center Party. Erling Sande, environmental spokesman for the party, said he doesn’t understand Moe’s harsh criticism of the environmental movement. “Organizations like Bellona, Zero and Natur og Ungdom share our views and have been our allies in the struggle for more renewable energy,” Sande said. The head of the party’s chapter in Østfold said he thinks the party needs to be clear about its environmental policies “and Ola could have handled things differntly.” Per Olav Lundteigen, a longtime Member of Parliament for Moe’s party, said “it must be stated that the Center Party is a green party that puts priority on renewable natural resources. There has been too much talk about increased oil and gas activity.”

Government partners uneasy
Moe claims he was only pointing out that he doesn’t think the environmentalists are consistent. “If you’re in favour of renewable energy, you have to make some choices,” he told newspaper Aftenposten. “You must build and invest in a network, you must cut down trees for biomass, and build windmills. It’s often those supporting renewable energy who protest construction of windmills.”

Moe’s battle with the environmentalists doesn’t seem well-received among his government colleagues. “The most important thing for me is to make it clear that this government wants to have a tight and good relationship with the environmental movement,” Erik Solheim, the minister for the environment, told Aftenposten. “My door will always be wide open for the environmental movement.”

Aftenposten reported that several key politicians in the three government coalition parties are frustrated with Moe. Some are questioning whether he’s suited for the job, and fear he will contribute towards “torpedoing” the coalition’s cooperation.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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