Cumbrian coal mine: Why Michael Gove must say no
A government decision on whether or not to grant planning permission for a controversial new coal mine in Cumbria is expected in the next few weeks.
The government has said that Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will make a decision on or before 7 July – but there has been speculation that it could be as soon as this month.
A Planning Inquiry into the coal mine took place last September, where Friends of the Earth was one of the two main parties opposing the application for planning permission – along with local campaign group SLACC (South Lakes Against Climate Change).
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said:
“The evidence for rejecting this mine is overwhelming. It would increase carbon emissions, its market is already starting to decline, and it won’t replace Russian coal imports. We need a green economy and the new jobs this brings, and areas like West Cumbria must be at the heart of this.”
Why the mine should be rejected
- Demand for coking coal is declining
Only a maximum of 13% of the coal will be used by the UK steel industry. Cumbria CC reported (para 7.92) that one of the two main customers (British Steel in Scunthorpe) has expressed doubts about whether it can use Cumbrian coal because of its sulphur content, and British Steel has said that it is not lobbying for the mine. Chris McDonald, CEO of the Materials Processing Institute (MPI - the UK’s national centre for steel industry research) has said that no-one in the steel industry is calling for the mine to be built.
The remainder of the coal will be exported to steelmakers in mainland Europe. But analysis from Friends of the Earth shows that this market is declining before the mine has opened as European steelmakers decide to move away from coal to low carbon technologies. The International Energy Agency has stated that, if the world is to reach net zero by 2050, then no new coal mines are required: there is enough coal in mines already open to meet remaining demand.
- The mine isn’t needed to replace Russian coal
Claims that the mine is needed to replace imported Russian coking coal are misleading. Steelmakers use a blend of coals with different characteristics to produce steel. In their evidence to the planning inquiry (p410), West Cumbria Mining was clear that their target is replacing coal with similar characteristics from the US east coast, Even since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, West Cumbria Mining has not claimed that its coal would replace Russian coal, which has different characteristics. Chris McDonald of MPI has said that the mine would not displace a single tonne of Russian coking coal from the UK.
- The mine would increase carbon emissions and approval would damage the UK’s climate credibility
The Chair of the Climate Change Committee has written that opening the Cumbrian mine would increase global carbon emissions and have an appreciable impact on the UK’s legally-binding carbon budgets. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently said that opening new fossil fuel infrastructure would be “moral and economic madness”. At COP26 last November, the Prime Minister placed great priority on ‘consigning coal to history’. The UK granting planning permission for a new coal mine while it still holds the COP presidency would severely undermine our climate credibility and negotiating strength.
- It isn’t the right way to create jobs
New fossil fuel extraction is not the right way to create jobs, and the declining demand for coking coal casts doubts over the mine’s medium and long-term prospects and the promised 500 jobs. Areas like West Cumbria should be at the forefront of government plans to transform our economy, create new jobs and build a cleaner future. According to the Local Government Association, there is potential for over 6000 green jobs in Cumbria by 2030, in areas such as energy efficiency, solar power, offshore wind and low carbon heating.. Almost 600 of these could be in Copeland, the area where the mine would be built.