New Cumbria Coal Mine: Backlash intensifies as steel industry cuts demand | Coal

Senior steel industry officials have dismissed claims that their demand for coal prompted the government’s controversial decision to license Britain’s first new coal mine in 30 years.

Upgrade Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to approve the Whitehaven mine in Cumbria last week has already faced backlash in the UK and beyond, with John Kerry, Joe Biden’s special envoy for the climate, warning that he was looking closely at the decision.

Government officials have insisted that the coal produced by the mine will be used to make steel, while other supporters have said the steel industry will need a locally produced source of coal.


Mark Jenkinson, a local Tory MP backing the project, said there was “no way to make new steel without it”. He added: “Steel underpins all the renewable technologies we need to use to reach our net zero goal. It makes no sense to import all of our coking coal, which would mean giving up on our climate commitments.

However, industry experts have insisted the demand for coal from UK and European steelmakers is a myth that has been repeated for years. “The UK steel industry has made it clear that coal from the West Cumbria mine has limited potential due to its high levels of sulphur,” said Chris McDonald, chief executive of the Materials Processing Institute, which serves as the national research centre. on steel in the UK.

“This, combined with industry’s desire to decarbonise, means that by the time the mine opens, only one of the UK’s current four blast furnaces is likely to be able to use this coal, which means that more than 90% of production will be exported.. The situation is the same in Europe with even stricter sulfur controls and a faster transition to green steel, which means that some companies will have completely moved away from the coal by the mid-2030s.”

Industry insiders also pointed out that even on the day the mine was given the green light, a European steelmaker announced plans to move away from steel produced from coking coal. German steelmaker Salzgitter has announced plans to sell green steel by 2025 and be completely carbon-free by 2033.

In its report submitted to ministers, the Planning Inspectorate claimed that the mine would have “a globally neutral effect on climate change”. He said the amount of coal used in steelmaking would be “broadly the same with or without”. However, legal challenges to the decision are being drawn up, with campaigners saying it contradicts the government’s own climate commitments.

Opponents also questioned the idea that the demand for steel justified the mine. “The idea that this mine is necessary is a myth,” said Tony Bosworth of Friends of the Earth. “While European steelmakers are already moving towards greener production and UK steelmakers are planning to do the same, the market for this coal is in decline even before the mine opens.

“If the government wants to support a modern UK steel industry, it should help it to be competitive by going green, not by championing a climate-devastating coal mine that the industry neither wants nor needs.”

In Westminster, there are suspicions among Labor and Tory critics that the decision was driven solely by the promised jobs the scheme will bring to the area and bolster the government’s ‘red wall’ credentials. The mine will produce around 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, increasing UK emissions by the equivalent of putting 200,000 cars on the road.

Before the decision was made, Alok Sharma, whose Cop26 presidency ended last month, told the Observer he remained opposed to the project. “Over the past three years the UK has sought to persuade other countries to make coal history, because we are fighting to limit global warming to 1.5C and coal is the source dirtiest source of energy,” Sharma said. “A decision to open a new coal mine would completely send the wrong message and be an against his side. This proposed new mine will have no impact on reducing energy bills or ensuring our energy security.

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