Debate continues about the mine decision - but it was the right thing to do

Much local rejoicing in West Cumbria about the decision to approve a metallurgical coal mine, much of which is in my division: much sound and fury from people who think, wrongly in my opinion, that they are defending the planet by opposing it.

I was accused of "hair-splitting" on twitter yesterday for making the distinction between thermal coal to burn in power stations, which the UK government wants to consign to history, and coking coal to make steel,

The reason for the difference is this

There ARE alternatives to using coal in power stations to make electricity, those alternatives are proven, reliable, economic, and indeed, have already been implemented in the UK to such an extent that we can go for hundreds of days at a time without using a single lump of coal to make electricity, and have used very little in the past couple of years.

There are NO proven, reliable, economic alternatives to using coal in blast furnaces to make steel, at least not yet, whatever some overoptimistic supporters of such alternatives would like to believe.

As long as we have a steel industry, or indeed if we import steel instead, coking coal will be used to produce that steel in at least the medium term. So the question is not whether coking coal will be mind, but where and how.

Like the original planning decisions by Cumbria County council, Michael Gove's planning approval notice restricts the approval to mining high quality coking coal, which is specifically defined in the planning decision letter, with restrictions on things like how much sulfur the coal can contain.

At the moment the British and European steel industry gets its coal from America, where it is strip mined using techniques which amount to cutting off the top of a mountain, from Russia where environmental standards are far lower than here or in the USA, with some from Poland.

I cannot accept that buying coal from America or Russia instead of mining it here with far greater environmental protections has anything to do with preventing climate change: it is about exporting the problem, exporting the release of carbon, and exporting the jobs, in order to look good, while achieving nothing except to shaft the residents of some of the poorest electoral wards in Britain, in an area which most of the people campaigning to stop the mine live hours of travelling time away from and know nothing whatever about.


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