Rejecting a new coal mine

This morning I have written to all of the councillors on Cumbria County Council’s Development Control and Regulation Committee. The committee is due to meet this Friday 2 October at 9am to consider West Cumbria Mining’s proposal to develop a new metallurgical coal mine in Whitehaven. I am imploring them to reject this proposal.

I’m making this available for anyone who wants to also contact the county council. I have used parts of a template available alongside instructions for contacting the councillors here, and have added some of my own points.

Dear Cllr,

I am writing to urgently request that you reject the proposal for West Cumbria Mining (WCM) to create a new underground metallurgical coal mine in Whitehaven, West Cumbria at the Development Control and Regulation Committee meeting this Friday.

It is with a great deal of regret that we must acknowledge we are no longer able to save the planet as we know it. In the US this month, wildfires have decimated a record 3.6 million hectares of forest, more than the equivalent area of the entire state of Connecticut. All of the world’s leading climate scientists and climate science organisations are in agreement that the extent and ferocity of these wildfires are due to the effects of global heating caused by human activity.

As Christiana Figueres – one of the key figures behind the UN’s Paris Agreement of 2015 – puts it, every ton of emitted carbon that we can prevent will lead to a less miserable future for humanity, and for all beings on this planet.

I know the argument that is repeatedly made in favour of the coal mine is that it is for coking coal for steelmaking, and that there is no viable alternative to it. This is untrue. Arcelor Mittal, the world’s largest steelmaking company, is investing heavily in hydrogen-based steelmaking with a new plant currently under construction in Hamburg. It has a Europe-wide ambition to be carbon neutral by 2050. This completely undermines WCM’s view that they can go on mining coal until 2049.

The government recently turned down planning permission for an opencast coal mine at Druridge Bay, in Northumberland. In his rejection, the Secretary of State said “there is limited objective evidence that the demand for coal for industrial purposes will remain at current levels beyond the very short term.” This undermines a key argument the mining company have been making in favour of the Whitehaven coal mine.

Further, global steel producer SSAB (based in Finland & Sweden) is aiming to produce fossil-free steel from hydrogen by 2026, nine years earlier than planned. WCM’s argument that coking coal will be needed for the next 50-70 years assumes that previous demand for coking coal can be used as an indicator of future supply. This approach is too simplistic, especially when alternative methods of non-coal steel production are coming on line, and flatly contradicts the government’s arguments against the Druridge Bay proposal.

New jobs in West Cumbria are desperately needed, especially as the region’s economy emerges from the Coronavirus pandemic. But will there really be 500 jobs for people who already live in West Cumbria for 50 years? Coal is an industry without a secure future as the move to develop green alternatives for making and recycling steel gathers pace. Over this 50 year period we are likely to see more mechanisation, and a drop in the demand for coking coal.

Most of the coal (87%) will go to European steel works, not UK ones. Only 3% of the commodity value will be spent on wages – not a huge economic benefit for Cumbria.

And is WCM a company that can be relied upon to have the best interests of West Cumbria at its heart, when its ultimate owner is based in a tax haven, the Cayman Islands, and it has chosen this site in the UK because they believe (compared with the rest of the world) the royalties are high and the wages low?

What the region desperately needs, and what Cumbria County Council should urgently look to introduce, is jobs in green industries that are secure well into the future.

Coal is one of the most carbon intense fuels and we simply cannot afford to extract or burn it if we are to comply with the Paris Agreement and tackle the climate emergency. WCM argue that greenhouse gas emissions from the mine would not be significant, because they are only considering the production of gases from the mine itself, and not from burning the coal – which are huge in comparison.

WCM argue that they don’t need to consider the emissions from the end-use because this mine will ‘substitute’ for the emissions from coking coal coming across the Atlantic from the US, and the US mines would close as a result of this one. This is a seriously flawed economic argument and is based on assumptions that were disproved by economist William Stanley Jevons 150 years ago, and now commonly known in economic circles as the Jevons paradox. Instead, this coal is likely to become cheaper than US coal, thus driving the price down and delaying the move to greener methods of steel production.

Finally, undersea coal mining could cause subsidence, and this seabed is already contaminated with radioactive and chemical waste sediments. These could be mobilised into the water and have an impact on the marine environment.

This coast is an important area for marine life, and is the last nesting place in England of the black guillemot. The potential for any impacts to our MCZs is unacceptable and should not be allowed.

I implore you to consider the future of humanity and of all beings on this fragile planet, and reject WCM’s proposal.

Best wishes,
Jack Lenox

Green Party Candidate for Copeland in the 2017 & 2019 General Elections
Also studying for an MSc in Sustainability & Behaviour Change at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales

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