Cumbrian coal mine: Why the government must say no
**Friends of the Earth spokespeople available for interview**
A decision on whether or not to grant planning permission for a controversial new coal mine in Cumbria is due in early December.
The government has said that that Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will decide on or before 8 December.
A Planning Inquiry into the coal mine took place in September 2021, 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 against 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 sustainable growth as we transition to a greener economy and the new jobs this will bring. Areas like West Cumbria must be at the heart of this."
Why the mine must 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 mine's 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 (Q73) that it is not lobbying for the mine. The mine’s other potential UK customer – Tata Steel in Port Talbot – has said that it wants to move away from coal use. 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 its evidence to the planning inquiry (page 410), West Cumbria Mining was clear that its 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. UK Steel (the industry’s trade association) has confirmed (Q10) that no Russian coal is used anymore in UK steelworks and government statistics confirm (page 5) that no coking coal was imported from Russia between April and June.
- 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 has said that approving the mine would be “absolutely indefensible”. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that opening new fossil fuel infrastructure would be "moral and economic madness". And Alok Sharma, President of COP 26 has also raised concerns about granting permission for the mine.
- 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. Alok Sharma, the COP 26 President and a cabinet minister until last month, has said that "if this is about creating jobs, then, as the Local Government Association has said, you can create a lot more jobs doing this in green sectors."