Environmentalists and analysts have argued that approval for a new coal mine in the fission-prone Cumbria will do little to displace imports from Russia.
Plans for a new coal mine in Whitehaven, which will mine coking coal for the steel industry, are awaiting approval from housing and community secretary Michael Gove.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has again called for mine approval, this time on the grounds that it will help Britain cut off fossil fuel imports and cash flow from Moscow.
West Cumbria Mining (WCM) said this month that “until recently, Russia was supplying nearly half of Britain’s steelmaking coal”. Supporting the mine “will help reduce the need for foreign coal imports” .
“Russia’s war in Ukraine shows why we need to be far more self-reliant on natural resources,” said Mike Starkey, Conservative mayor of Copeland, Whitehaven’s constituency.
Copeland Conservative MP Trudy Harrison said the UK “usually” imports coking coal from Russia, and its inability to extract its own coal “only serves to increase its dependence on foreign coke”.
Environmentalists and analysts have now questioned these claims.
Jess Ralston, an analyst at energy think tank ECIU, said the mine “will not have a significant impact on the volume of imports from Russia” as WCM already said it expects coal used in the UK to replace existing US imports.
The mine was initially approved by the Cumbria County Council in March 2019, but came under public scrutiny following objections from climate activists. WCM said at the hearing that it expects to export most of its coal.
Gove will disclose his decision next week. Sky News understands that Conservative lawmakers are divided on the issue and that approval could help pacify the rebels.
Valentin Vogl, a PhD student who submitted the survey, called the debate over declining Russian imports a “Trojan horse.”
“There is a significant discrepancy between what the investigation says and what is currently said about replacing Russian coal,” he told Sky News.
“If you are convinced that you can open this mine and replace Russian coal, you have to have good evidence,” he added.
Last year, the UK procured 39% of its coking coal from Russia. Tata Steel, one of Britain’s two major steel producers, told Sky News that it had already “stopped doing business with Russia” after the invasion of Ukraine.
The only other major domestic producer, British Steel, has also stopped importing Russian coal. It had previously warned that Whitehaven’s coal composition was a “problem” for the plant.
Read more: Johnson urges West to ‘end addiction’ to Russian energy Branson calls for lower speed limits and offers to suspend flights to reduce West’s dependence on Russia
22:18 How will Cumbria’s new coal mine affect UK emissions targets? Can a victorious President Macron deliver on his climate promises? And can lab-grown meat take off?
Several green groups, including activist Friends of the Earth, lawyer Client Earth and think tank, wrote today to Michael Gove urging him to reject the plan. “Cumbrian coal will not displace imports from Russia,” they said. “West Cumbria Mining has made it clear that coal will replace US imports.”
The UK, host of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, has lobbied other countries to “commit coal to history.”
Energy activist Tony Bosworth of Friends of the Earth told Sky News: “Approving the UK’s first new coal mine for 30 years is a goodbye to our climate reliability.”
The Level Up, Housing and Community Department declined to comment until the minister made a plan decision.
WCM declined to comment on the letter.
Proponents of mines say coal has a lower carbon footprint than imports and will create about 500 jobs.
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