The howls of ecological outrage at the decision by the UK Government not to block plans for the first deep coal mine in 30 years have been loud and long. And in my view, entirely misplaced.
Cumbria County Council approved the £165 million West Cumbria Mining Plan back in October. Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, has decided neither to stall or block the project. He (conveniently) argues that the Government is “committed to give more power to councils to make their own decisions on planning issues.”
This is an argument that I am sure will be noted by Suffolk County Council, which has refused planning permission for EDF’s proposed Sizewell C nuclear power station.
The Cumbria mine is set to extract about three million tonnes of coal annually, mainly from under the seabed. But none of it will be used to generate electricity. The coking coal from the site will be used exclusively by the steel industry. It will substitute for coking coal that up until now had to be imported. This eliminates the environmental costs of transporting the fuel halfway around the world to arrive at steel-making factories in the UK.
So it can be argued that, even in climate change terms, the West Cumbria mine should be welcomed. What Greenpeace et al need to come up with is a way to make steel that doesn’t depend on coke as the key raw material. That would surely be a far more worthwhile objective.