A Labour MP has demanded a public inquiry into the "very, very close co-operation" between the Government and the company planning to build Britain's first coal-fired power station for more than 20 years.
Environmental groups reacted furiously when John Hutton, the Business Secretary, signalled his likely support for a new generation of plants burning fossil fuels, starting with a power station at Kings-north, north Kent.
The area's MP, Robert Marshall-Andrews, denounced Mr Hutton's stance and claimed there had been collusion between his department and E.ON UK, the energy giant that wants to develop the Kingsnorth site.
He pointed to an exchange of emails between the company and the Department for Business after the controversial planning application was referred to Mr Hutton in January. It showed civil servants agreed to a request from E.ON not to include a timetable for introduce "clean coal technology" as a condition for the application being approved.
Mr Marshall-Andrews said he had "grave concerns" over the "very, very close co-operation", adding on Radio 4: "There must be a public inquiry, first because of the gravity of what's being proposed and second because of what we now know of what has happened between the department and the application."
Mr Hutton accused green groups of "gesture politics" and said power from fossil fuels would continue to play a "key role" among a range of energy sources in generating power. "For critics, there's a belief coal-fired power stations undermine the UK's leadership position on climate change. In fact the opposite is true." E.ON says the Kings-north site, which could supply 1.5 million homes by the year 2012, would use "clean coal", with carbon emissions captured and stored under the sea.
Leila Dean, of the World Development Movement, said: "Hutton's vision of climate leadership is to build polluting power stations and cross his fingers and hope for the best that unproven carbon capture technology works. This is not politics; this is a game of smoke and mirrors."
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said coal was the "most climate-wrecking form of power generation known to man" and accused the Government of behaving like Jekyll and Hyde over energy.
A spokesman for the Business Department said it was perfectly normal for officials to discuss what conditions could be attached to a planning application.