Second week of public inquiry focusses on mining giants need for coal

In week two of a five week public inquiry [1], instigated by a small Cumbrian charity backed by global support, the focus is on a mining giants’ evidence of a need for coal.

The internationally connected West Cumbria Mining Company (WCM) [2] wants planning permission to operate a new coal mine on the west coast of Cumbria. To do this they will have to convince the inspector of a need for the coal.

South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC) has a lead role [3] in challenging the claims and evidence being presented by WCM. The first week of the inquiry saw MP’s and interested parties speak followed by opening statements from WCM and the two Rule 6 parties [3].

Week two sees the public inquiry moves into detailed evidence and cross examination.

SLACC chair of trustees Carole Wood says:

“It’s taken us four years, with the help of many people around the world, to get to this point.  Already we can see WCM reacting to our evidence and challenges. We have pointed out serious flaws [4] in their evidence and they have been unable to refute all our challenges”.

Maggie Mason, who is leading on SLACC’s input at the inquiry, says:

“In week two our expert witnesses will argue that the coal from this mine is not the type that the UK and EU steel industry needs or wants. And that steel makers in Europe are increasingly committed to hydrogen based steelmaking to meet carbon reduction targets and consumer preferences”.

SLACC’s expert witnesses will challenge WCM’s claims that: green steel making [5] is unable to replace coking coal within the lifetime of the proposed mine. Professor Lars Nilsson will show that European steelmakers are already committed to 10Mt of “coal free” steel production [6] by 2030. Professor Paul Ekins will demonstrate that EU and UK climate commitments, and the government measures to implement them, will hasten the roll out of these technologies so the need for coking coal will collapse. SLACC say they will also debunk WCM claims that carbon capture and storage (CCS) would allow the use of coking coal to continue. 

SLACC has worked alongside a number of sustainability groups in Cumbria, as well as national charities that include Friends of the Earth and Green Alliance. The charity has attracted over £50,000 of crowd funding this year to support its legal expenses.

The inquiry can be watched on the Planning Inspectorate’s YouTube channel

Notes to editors

The public inquiry was called by Robert Jenrick (SoS MHCLG) after legal moves by South Lakes Action on Climate Change (SLACC). SLACC galvanised a network of local, national and international climate change experts and sustainability activists with a common interest in stopping global warming.

SLACC‘s expert witnesses will argue that the coal is not needed, that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground and, if released, would worsen the global climate emergency. SLACC will also challenge West Cumbria Mining (WCM) claims around benefits justifying the mine’s global and local impacts.

Friends of the Earth are in full support of SLACC’s position, and will focus on the serious harms to the landscape and the operational emissions of the mine.

Foot notes

[1] WCM’s proposal for a coal mine at Woodhouse Colliery is the subject of a public inquiry by the planning inspectorate which began on Tuesday, September 7 and anticipated to last five weeks.

[2] West Cumbria Mining Company’s principal shareholder and backer of the new mine is the Singapore-based EMR Capital Investment. SLACC believe the buyer of the coal from the mine is Javelin Global Commodities who purchase, supply, trade, and market bulk and energy commodities for customers worldwide.

[3] SLACC’s lawyers pressed the Government to call the Public Inquiry and has Rule 6 status. This means SLACC has a key and leading role in preparing and presenting evidence, and interrogating evidence put forward by WCM. Friends of the Earth (FOE) is the other Rule 6 Party.

[4] WCM recently submitted a new report by Wood Mackenzie[1] that says their coal would not be used in the UK or EU but there is a market for it in Asia.

[5] “Green steel” is shorthand for primary steel made without the use of coking coal and with very low or zero GHG emissions.

(6) Direct Reduction Furnaces are already a mature technology but currently use fossil derived gas.

(7) Despite almost two decades of research, discussion and investment, the carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology that WCM claim will capture GHG emissions has (according to WCM’s own expert report JT1/2) technical difficulties. They say it is expensive, and only captures up to 30% of emissions. Capturing GHG from turning natural gas into hydrogen is a possible transitional use of CCS, but experts[2] argue that a “leapfrog” into the new technology would have lower cumulative carbon emissions, and assist in maintaining jobs in the UK steel industry. 

[1] WoodMac Steel and Metallurgical Coal Expert Report Addendum: 6 September 2021

[2] SI-Series-Paper-05-Decarbonisation-of-the-Steel-Industry-in-the-UK. Materials Processing Institute and Syndex: March 2021