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Controversial Coal Mine Approved, First in 30 Years

08 December 2022

The first new UK coal mine project in 30 years has been approved this week by Michael Gove, causing controversy at a time of energy focus.

The planning for this development has been disputed since the local county council gave the green light back in 2020. The higher approval process came to an actual suspension in 2021 however, due to concerns from the government climate change advisor in advance of COP26.

It's a worry that this is an increase in carbon emissions, however, the government’s Climate Change Committee (UKCCC) have stated that 85 per cent of the coal will be exported.

That said, this would certainly count as immense Scope 3 emissions at the least – the example of investing in fossil fuels is also not one that sits well with the message of encouraging UK businesses to consider their own footprint and supply chains.


"It’s vital the government keeps to its promise of levelling up by training and supporting people to work in green industries with good, long-term prospects, not consigning them to the disappointment of a dangerous job that will soon be obsolete.”


– Tm Fyans
Interim CEO, CPRE


The Go Ahead from Gove


A letter from Mr Gove, agreeing with the planning inspectors recommendation, says he was "satisfied that there is currently a UK and European market for the coal” and that carbon “emissions would be relatively neutral and not significant". This aligns with government’s policies on curbing carbon in our own nation.

This has been condemned by the opposition and of course environmental groups, for juxtaposing the UK’s lead on transitioning to a cleaner energy economy.

“A new coal mine only makes it harder for the UK Government to meet its legally-binding carbon budgets, which it was already well off-track to meeting even before this decision and has been ordered by the High Court to revise its Net Zero Strategy,” highlighted Joanne Etherton, Head of Climate at ClientEarth.

“The Cumbria mine would lock in emissions until 2049, which is well after the 2035 date by which the Climate Change Committee and the Government anticipate UK steelmaking to reach net-zero.”


A Past Fuel for a Past Industry


West Cumbria Mining intends to use this coal - which produces almost twice the carbon of natural gas - for steelmaking in the UK and Europe. The mine is expected to create about 500 jobs, which would theoretically be safe until the local council’s grant to dig for it runs out in 2049.

“The people of Cumbria are crying out for good jobs and a stable future. Like other rural communities up and down the country, they have suffered years of neglect and underinvestment,” said Tm Fyans, interim CEO at CPRE, the countryside charity.

“That’s why it’s vital the government keeps to its promise of levelling up by training and supporting people to work in green industries with good, long-term prospects, not consigning them to the disappointment of a dangerous job that will soon be obsolete.”

Steel industry Expert Chris McDonald told the BBC that the two UK Steel companies this will supply will use less than 10 per cent of the mine’s output, and none by the mid-2030s. All of the coal will eventually be used for exports, essentially shipping a lot of the added carbon footprint to other shores.

Some Northern MPs are welcoming the regional investment. However, the Local Government Association estimates there will be nearly 900 jobs created in West Cumbria thanks to the development of green and low-carbon technologies like offshore wind and low-carbon energy generation.


Picture: Coal. Image credit: Unsplash.

Article written by Bailey Sparkes | Published 08 December 2022


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