UK’s first coal mine for 30 years faces legal challenge

Article by Amanda Jasi

William Joshua Templeton /
Extinction Rebellion protest Michael Gove’s decision outside the Department of Levelling Up, London, on 18 January

Friends of the Earth makes climate case as industry casts doubt on demand for coal

FRIENDS of the Earth has filed a legal challenge in the UK’s High Court against the government’s approval of the country’s first coal mine in 30 years. The approval sparked widespread climate concerns and doubts have been raised about an apparent lack of demand from the steel industry it is intended to serve.

Approval of the mine was announced in December, as Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, agreed with the Planning Inspectorate’s recommendation, allowing the development to commence within the next three years. Yet it faces stiff opposition.

Announcing the environmental campaign group’s intent to file a challenge, lawyer at Friends of the Earth Niall Toru said: “By giving the go-ahead to this polluting and totally unnecessary coal mine the government has not only made the wrong decision for our economy and the climate, we believe it has also acted unlawfully … [It] has failed to account for the significant climate impacts of this mine, or how the much-needed move to green steelmaking will be impacted by its approval.

“With the world facing a climate emergency, we shouldn’t have to take this challenge to court. Any sensible government should be choosing to leave coal in the ground, and accelerating the transition to a safe, clean, and sustainable future.”

Proponents of the mine have pointed to the 500 jobs the project is expected to create. Friends of the Earth argues that just as many jobs could be created through a home insulation programme that would simultaneously reduce emissions, lower bills, and warm homes.

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth campaigner, added: “The people of West Cumbria have been badly let down by years of government under-investment. Long-term, sustainable jobs are desperately wanted and needed […] West Cumbria should be at the forefront of the transition to a green economy that would see the UK leading the way towards a zero-carbon future.”

The £165m (US$201.8m) Whitehaven mine project was originally approved in 2019. In early 2021, ahead of COP26, the UK government suspended approval as it prepared to take on the presidency of the climate conference.

The mine, which will primarily serve the steel industry, will produce 2.8m t/y of coking coal with 360,000 t/y expected to supply the UK steel sector. Operations are to end no later than 2049, just ahead of the UK’s 2050 net zero target date. Over a 25-year operational life, West Cumbria Mining’s (WCM) project is expected to emit about 1.9m t/y CO2e for a “likely mitigated scenario”. In the document published outlining the decision to approve the mine, the levelling up department concludes that accounting for mitigation, the development’s greenhouse gas emissions will be “relatively neutral, and not significant”.

This article is adapted from an earlier online version.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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