BP's reputation as one of the world's most environmentally progressive energy companies is on the line. The oil giant has been privately lobbying in Washington to block legislation to introduce a mandatory curb on greenhouse gases in the US, it has emerged.
The move has prompted an outcry from America's green lobby. Environmentalists had hoped the country's new energy bill would include a stringent set of regulations on climate change in the US, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, after it refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
BP's attempt to scupper the inclusion of mandatory caps in the energy bill has emerged just two days after its representatives met Tony Blair last week to back an initiative to reduce harmful emissions.
The British oil group's position in the crucial American market is also at odds with a bold decision by its chief executive, Lord Browne, in 2002 to acknowledge the crisis facing the environment in a speech at Stanford University in California. Since then, BP has adopted the slogan "Beyond Petroleum" and turned its logo into a green sunflower to underline its environmental credentials.
Yet in a meeting two weeks ago with New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman, one of the leading senators on the energy natural resources committee, executives from BP's Washington office said the company would not support Senator Bingaman's proposal in the energy bill for compulsory limits on carbon dioxide emissions.
The company is unlikely to back a separate proposal by John McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, and Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, for mandatory cuts in greenhouse gases. Instead, BP said it supported a third alternative from Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, which requires companies only to try to cut emissions with the promise of tax breaks. Debate will start on all three sets of proposals this week when the energy bill comes before the senate.
Peter Goldmark, the director of the climate and air programme at pressure group Environmental Defense in New York said: "We were stunned when we found out BP was supporting Hagel. It is completely at odds with its record and its public statements."
Washington's Clean Air Watch said BP was guilty of "greenwashing on epic proportions" by championing green causes in public while privately backing the weakest of the amendments to the energy bill.
A spokeswoman for BP defended the company's position, saying the Hagel framework was "an achievable step in creating good climate policy".
The company believes that some of the McCain-Lieberman and Bingaman proposals would not achieve the ultimate goal of reducing global warming.