The West Cumbria Mining Co has been the topic of some major debating recently. So why is this privately owned enterprise currently in the limelight and what makes it such a hot potato?

The steel mining business with a slogan that reads ‘Great Steel. Great Coal. Great Britain’ has been batted to and fro across the net a number of times as a major wrangle between politicians and climate protestors has been fought on the side-lines. Their proposition to produce 2-3 million tonnes of high quality, metallurgical coal annually for steelmaking at Woodhouse Colliery off the coast of Cumbria, although approved by local councils and not withdrawn at a government level, still does not have the support it needs to go ahead. Their £165m proposal was approved by Cumbria County Council in October. If it proceeded, it would be the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years.

Creation of hundreds of jobs in a low unemployment area (2.8% July 19-June 20 in Cumbria compared to 3.8% nationally)
Unemployment in the North is the worst since the 1990s. Boris is investing millions in apprenticeships. Any big venture that will create jobs should be embraced by the UK for the many who have lost theirs in this pandemic. In this case, WCM have offered 80% of the jobs to locals, taking a large number off government benefits.
Climate Change Committee say 85% of the coal would be exported
There is no evidence to prove that this will be the case. It looks unlikely, given that the UK steel industry is the driving force behind the need for this type of coal, and is currently forced to import the raw coke.
There is no technology currently to make steel at scale without using coal
Until this technology is produced, industry cannot survive in a vacuum
The UK needs to be using clean technologies by 2035 but the mine has been given the consent until 2049
In order to have ‘clean technologies’ such as wind turbines and battery-operated cars, we need this kind of fuel. The bonuses negate any environmental impact *
It’s the reopening of an old seam, rather than the creation of a new mine
Per capita we would still be amongst the ‘greenest’ countries in the world. It will not ruin an otherwise unspoilt environment as there has been a mine at the site for years and it is in an industrial site on what currently is effectively waste land.
The UK is a founding member of the multi-nation PPCA (Powering Past Coal Alliance) that is working to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to clean energies – critics argue that allowing a coal mine to open on such a large scale sends the wrong message and does not show leadership by example
These critics are clearly not aware of the type and purpose of the coal. It is ‘coking’ coal, primarily used in steel-making. It is not for burning to heat homes and fire factory furnaces, a type which would release far greater air pollutants.
It will save on imports including from China and Australia which are of a lower quality
In Australia in September last year, the government gave the green light for a $1bn coal mine in addition to several hundred already used. With increasingly souring relations with China, they have sought to ensure contingency supply. The UK should be too, especially given the increasing delays in imports and the fossil fuels burnt in delivering it to UK manufacturers.The coal identified at Woodhouse Colliery seams is ultra-low ash (less than 4%), extremely low phosphorous (less than 0.01%) and has excellent furnace performance characteristics such as extremely high fluidity (30,000dppm).
Alok Sharma, UK minister who serves as president of COP26, the Climate Change Conference, admitted the subject could be seen as embarrassing while the Business & Climate Secretary Kwarteng said the mine would come at ‘slight conflict’ with current policy.
But the mine would pay dividends in terms of gains to meet government pledges in providing the steel necessary for HS2, employment and supporting the troubled economy to only very minor losses. In fact, the total environmental impact would be less than if we kept on with imports because this is local and of much higher quality!
The scheme does not breach current planning rules
If the council opposed the project without any substantiable reason they could find their decision overturned anyway in a law court, which would be a waste of government resources
Dr Jim Hansen, former scientific head of NASA and one of the world’s foremost climate scientists, has put his weight behind the lobbying.
We aren’t sure why he isn’t focusing on his USA homeland in his concerns, as his country is the 3rd biggest coal producer in the world, including much worse environmentally impacting types

Under pressure from the Lib Dems to resign – leader Ed Davey in his former role was an energy secretary and climate action negotiator – Alok Sharma is facing mounting calls to oppose the project.

But local councillors say there was no good basis to reject the application, and the mine’s supporters said it would bring hundreds of well-paid jobs to the area. There is a lot of relevant skillset unemployed since the closure of the Marchon chemical works, the decommissioning of the Sellafield nuclear facility and the scrapping of plans for another nuclear site. They insist it will produce coking coal for the UK’s steel industry, and save on imports. And, ironically – or steely as the case may be – wind turbines firing up our next generation heating take up around 230 tonnes of steel apiece.

It seems to come down to a political game of tennis. Ed Miliband, MP for Doncaster North and former Labour leader, said in June 2015 that the early closure of Hatfield Colliery was ‘deeply disappointing’ and debated in opposition to the shutdown. The Colliery was in his court, and he had game, set and match in his sights, but he failed. Instead, he has levied the UK industry with a carbon levy, scaled up by the coalition Government to approximately four times of that of any European counterpart, making UK coal far too unsustainable in the face of foreign imports. Now we aren’t even sure which side of the net he is batting, let alone if he knows where the ball is.

But, from the other side of the court, Boris Johnson has a lot of catch-up to do after dropping the ball a number of times, giving advantage to the other side. Having promised ‘We will crack it’ in February last year as he recommitted to his 2050 net zero pledge, he was met with large amounts of critics and controversy. In an embarrassing last-minute move, he fired his Climate Talks Chair, Claire O’Neill, amid growing discontent about her handling of the whole green movement. She had lost confidence with many climate campaigners including with some undiplomatic comments she was quoted as saying, and he had to make some quick serves to save face. It wasn’t until November that his strategy was out, and many are sceptical that even if diesel and petrol cars are phased out by 2030, and £4bn is pumped into alternatives, it’s not clear what else he plans to do to make his target pledge possible.

So we have dealt with wind turbines. And even the latest generation electric Teslas have a lot of steel in them. Let’s not forget that electric car batteries require far rarer earth elements to run on too, such as lithium, nickel and graphite, all of which have to be mined. And solar panels? Whilst they are made largely of silicon, one of the most readily available materials on earth, production requires a carbon source such as metallurgical coal to fire the furnaces to the high temperatures needed. Hydroelectricity? Yes, harnessed by stainless steel turbines. Most alternative fuels require steel at some point of their production.

And for West Cumbria Coal themselves, their future still hangs in the balances. If they weren’t frustrated, they’d be laughing. A UK source of just 3.0mt of the country’s annual 16.4mt demand such as they propose is calculated to save the environment from more than 20,000 tonnes of CO2e every year. And if that isn’t enough, they are even offering to plant 250,000 trees per year to offset any carbon emissions. Their latest press release last week stated: ‘WCM was informed by Cumbria County Council (CCC) yesterday that it has decided to return the planning application for Woodhouse Colliery back to their Development Control and Regulation Committee for redetermination, on the basis of the Committee on Climate Change report recommendations for the UK’s sixth carbon budget.

The planning application has been approved by CCC on three separate occasions, and the Secretary of State for MHCLG has twice rejected requests for the project to be ‘called in’. Now, in an apparent u-turn, they have passed the buck back to the Development Control and Regulation Committee for the fourth time, quailing under pressure of legal threats from solicitors representing South Lakes Action on Climate Change. An attempt by WCM to resolve the matter by polite letter did not have the desired effect and now WCM have been forced down the line of having to take legal action against the council for backing out at the 11th hour, despite all agreements prior meeting legal framework around such planning decisions. Finally a high court judge, instead of Mr Boris or Mr Sharma, may get to decide. Politically, this is a good move for the Conservative Party who will no longer suffer the repercussions if it is allowed to go ahead as they no longer will be directly responsible for the final decision. And it may actually work in the WCM’s favour if the court of law rules strictly by Case Law. It ruled against Sajid Javid in his refusal for an open cast coal mind in Northumberland, and according to Chris Popanicolaou, representing Jones Day on, ‘he had erred in his decision by giving considerable weight to the adverse effects of GHG emissions. The Court decided that the Secretary of State had agreed to many of the planning inspectorate’s findings on the proposal—for example, that there was a need for coal to meet the UK’s energy needs and that there was a window within which coal from the proposed development would be used for that purpose—but reached a very different decision and had given inadequate reasons. This included the failure to explain how the UK’s energy needs would be met by low carbon sources instead of coal. The application is now due to be reconsidered by a new secretary of state.’

Perhaps a final decision on WCM will be reached before the next publicly attended Wimbledon match.

*Forbes is a trusted business source. They say: ‘meet Somewhere in America, a lump of coal is burned every time a book is ordered on-line.

The current fuel-economy rating: about 1 pound of coal to create, package, store and move 2 megabytes of data. The digital age, it turns out, is very energy-intensive… There’s a parallel boom in the systems and electronics that keep power clean.’ Take China for example. With over 40% of the global electric car market sited there, they are takers of over 44% of the global demand for coal, yet electric vehicles in China pump out 188.5 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per mile, currently a world record, and not for a good thing. Imagine the world if we removed coal now. Everything and everyone would grind to a standstill. The pandemic would pale into insignificance compared to the resulting new economic crash.


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