The first coal mine in the UK in 30 years has been approved by the government, sparking a storm of protests from green groups and MPs across politics.
Michael Gove, the leveling secretary, approved the mine in Whitehaven in Cumbria on Wednesday night in a controversial decision that has been delayed several times.
The £165 million mine, which will supply coke for use in the steel industry rather than burning it in power plants, is expected to employ 500 people.
The government said the approval was recommended by the independent plan ombudsman. “This coal will be used to make steel and would otherwise need to be imported,” it said, adding: “The mine seeks to achieve net zero in its operations and is expected to contribute to local jobs and the broader economy.”
The project has faced strong opposition from environmentalists and goes against the UK government’s position in recent years as a leader in efforts to phase out fossil fuels. especially coal because of its high carbon footprint.
Caroline Lucas, the country’s only Green Party MP, said the government’s support for a “trapped, obsolete, climate-destructive property coal mine” was tantamount to “climate crimes against humanity” “.
Tim Farron, a former leader of the Liberal Democratic Party and a Cumbrian MP, said the decision was “ridiculous and terrifying” and a “disastrous failure of leadership”.
The project was initially approved by the Cumbria district council in 2019 but was later summoned by the government and began a public investigation in September 2021.
Boris Johnson expressed concern about the project last year, when he was prime minister, saying he was “not in favor of more coal”. But both local Conservative MPs, Mark Jenkinson and Trudy Harrison, support the mine.
Harrison, MP of Copeland, has argued that the steel industry will need coking coal from somewhere and so it makes no sense to “turn a blind eye and get rid of our emissions”.
Alok Sharma, MP Tory, who served as chair of the COP26 climate summit, has warned that the project will make it difficult for the UK to achieve a legally binding “carbon budget” – under which emissions emissions are gradually reduced towards the goal of zero by 2050 .
He recently argued: “Opening a new coal mine would not only be a step backwards for UK climate action but also damage the international reputation the UK has so hard to win. .
However, the 419-page decision letter published Wednesday night said Gove had concluded that “the proposed development would have an overall neutral impact on climate change.” Factors in favor of this proposal include economic benefits and the provision of “domestic sourcing” to the steel industry.
But Ron Deelan, a former British Steel chief executive, said the approval was “completely unnecessary” given the availability of enough coal on the free market. “The UK steel industry needs green investment in electric and hydrogen arc furnaces,” he said.
The mine will produce 3 million tonnes of metallurgical coal per year when fully developed, representing around 18 per cent of the UK’s annual consumption. The approval was given on the condition that the underground conveyor, which transports coal from the mine to the ship, must be tunneled through the ground rather than placed in a trench.
Environmental group Friends of the Earth called the decision “appalling”. “This short-sighted decision is bad news for the climate and long-term welfare of the region,” said Dr Ruth Balogh, coordinator of the West Cumbrian branch of the group. Sustainable greening for the future — not a dirty coal mine.
West Cumbria Mining, which has worked on the project for eight years, said it would release a statement soon.