Coal 1
Coal 1

A new Coal Mine in Cumbria?

A planning application for a new underground coal mine was first submitted to Cumbria County Council by West Cumbria Mining (WCM) in May 2017, but the proposal has been amended significantly by the applicant three times in the intervening years . The latest version of the mine proposal was approved on the 7th December 2022 by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) following a planning inquiry in September 2021.

On the 13th January 2023 South Lakes Action on Climate Change [SLACC] lodged papers at the High Court in Manchester launching a legal challenge to Mr Gove’s decision. Friends of the Earth (FoE) are also pursuing a legal challenge. Consent has been given for a 3 -Day Hearing at the High Court, but as it stands on 8th April 2024, no date for that Hearing has been set.

This long delay has NOT been caused by SLACC or FoE. The Courts themselves decided that the Hearing for the Whitehaven coal mine needed to be delayed until the Supreme Court ruled on another fossil fuel extraction case, concerning an oil well at Horse Hill Surrey, and whether greenhouse gases and global heating from the USE of the oil are an “indirect effect” of extracting it. WCM “intervened” in the Horse Hill case, hoping for a ruling that would help their case.

However, the Supreme Court judges haven’t made their Decision yet, even though their Hearing was in June 2023. So just before Easter (2024) WCM , wrote to the courts to ask them to continue with the coal mine Legal Challenge Hearing as soon as possible. To paraphrase, they say Horse Hill isn’t actually relevant, because WCM are confident that, by the magic of “substitution”, there would be no increase in global greenhouse gases emissions as a result of the new coal mine anyway. This superficial and contradictory conclusion must be Challenged.

WCM and Michael Gove accepted that 220 Million tonnes (NET) of greenhouse gases would be released by using that coal, but that another mine elsewhere in the world would close, OR the coal mine would be a “swing supplier” that stopped production when prices fell, OR maybe some steel plants would install carbon capture and storage. So, they said, the actual additional global emissions (GROSS) was so uncertain that it could be assumed to be insignificant. i.e. the Climate Neutral Coal Mine. This argument is a desperately dangerous precedent that gives a greenlight to new fossil fuel extraction all around the world. It ignores the fact that increased supplies of fossil fuel lower prices and changes the “price point” for renewable energy solutions. Prolonged use of fossil fuels = higher atmospheric carbon = more heating.

SLACC and FoE legal teams have written to the Courts to oppose WCM’s attempt to duck the Horse Hill ruling, and stand ready to oppose Michael Gove and WCM at our Legal Challenge Hearing whenever that is scheduled.

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Public Enquiry Evidence (selection of)

Six reasons why SLACC opposed the proposed Cumbria coal mine

The Public Inquiry held in September and October 2021 raised a series of arguments against the proposed mine. We can best summarise the arguments against the mine with these six reasons:

1. Emissions

The proposed mine will add 9,000,000 Tonnes of CO2 every year at a time when the world is aiming to reduce and eliminate emissions from coal. This is a huge amount – significant for Cumbria, the UK and the world.

2. Global Leadership

The global political consensus is to reduce and eliminate coal as a fuel source because of the huge amount of CO2 it creates. To do this means not only closing existing mines but not opening new ones. The UK continues as the host country of COP for the next year, during which time it will be challenging China, India and other countries on their plans for using coal. It will lose credibility with other countries in this process if it approves this mine.

3. Low Carbon Steel is the Future

The steel industry understands the problem of using coal, and every major steel producer is investigating and investing in alternative fuel sources such as hydrogen. Buyers of steel are also increasing demanding ‘low carbon steel’ which is pushing progress faster than foreseen even two years ago. The proposed mine will likely be obsolete long before it’s proposed end date of 2049.

4. High Sulphur Content

The proposed Cumbria mine will produce a quality of coal that is not suitable for UK and European steel makers, being too high in suphur. It will therefore not replace imports as advertised. Rather, it will rely upon global export markets and therefore higher delivered costs. It will also reach full production just as steel companies are reducing their reliance upon coal. This will cast a long shadow on the number and the quality of the jobs on offer.

5. Jobs

West Cumbria needs jobs that have a future. A variety of studies have highlighted the exiting potential for jobs tied to renewable energy, energy efficiency and a low carbon Cumbria. Such jobs would be created across a wide range of companies and sectors delivering a resilient working environment. What’s needed is a collective effort from central and local governments, academia, and business to make these happen.

6. Ancient Woodland

The proposed development would lead to destruction of an area of ancient woodland. England is one of the countries that has been most denuded of its ancient woodlands. We should be restoring and regenerating what is left, not cutting more down.

Our final closing statement can be found above, together with the detailed rebuttals that our experts submitted during the Inquiry.

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