New coal mine for England sparks hopes and fears

WHITEHAVEN, England – Britain pulled out of the coal business 100 years ago. The fuel that turned an island nation into a dark-sky manu...


WHITEHAVEN, England – Britain pulled out of the coal business 100 years ago. The fuel that turned an island nation into a dark-sky manufacturing giant during the Industrial Revolution has been gradually replaced by oil, natural gas and, increasingly in recent years, offshore winds and sunlight.

This is why a proposal, the first in decades, to dig a new coal mine in Whitehaven, a faded port town in North West England, has generated so much interest – enthusiasm of some, repulsion of d ‘others.

And that put Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a bind. As he prepares to host the United Nations climate conference COP26 in the fall, the proposal forces him to choose between the economic development of a region hungry for new investments and the polishing of its environmental credentials while climate change dominates the political debate.

West Cumbria Mining’s proposal is to invest £ 160million, or $ 218million, in a mine that would create more than 500 well-paying jobs, going up to £ 60,000 a year. Coal would not be used in power plants, but rather in steelmaking, an industry still heavily dependent on coal.

The mine would ease the dependence of British steelmakers on imported coal to run their factories.

“If it is not mined here, it will be imported from elsewhere,” said Mike Starkie, the mayor of the Whitehaven area, which was once a hub for coal mining. He became a supporter of the project shortly after winning the election six years ago.

Although using coal to make steel generates greenhouse gases, Starkie stressed that steel is needed for green energy – to make wind turbines, for example.

“I don’t think anyone would say it’s anything but very positive for the local economy,” he said. This sentiment is widely shared in Whitehaven, where residents remember the coal mining jobs that once infused family income, supporting local businesses.

Others see West Cumbria Mining’s proposal as an embarrassment for Britain and a potential setback in its efforts to become carbon neutral. While British coal production fell more than 90 percent Over the past decade, the country has aggressively championed renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power. Mr Johnson has said he wants to make Britain “the Saudi Arabia of the wind”.

A new mine in Whitehaven could undermine Mr Johnson’s credibility as he tries to persuade countries like China and India to burn less coal, critics say.

“If you want to make phasing out coal a priority, you can’t have a coal mine,” said Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, the environmental group.

The Climate Change Committee, an influential oversight body set up by Parliament, warned that the mine would increase global emissions and “have a significant impact” on Britain’s legally binding carbon targets.

But Mr Johnson is under pressure to support the economies of northern constituencies, like Cumbria County and the Whitehaven region, which have turned conservative after decades as Labor strongholds. Large local employers, including a chemical plant and a steel mill, have closed over the years.

Along with Mr. Starkie, local MP Trudy Harrison supports the project. Both are Conservatives, the party led by Mr Johnson.

A Cumbria County Council planning committee has approved the mine three times, but the threat of legal challenges has delayed it. In March, in an unusual move, Mr Johnson’s government stepped in and said it would decide the issue, arguing that the mine’s request raises “issues of more than local importance.”

An agency is expected to start a review in early September. He will make a recommendation, but Mr Johnson’s government has the final say.

West Cumbria Mining, which is backed by Australian private equity firm EMR Capital, said at the time “very disappointed” with the government’s action. The company said it will use modern and safe equipment mining machines capable of digging up to 30 tonnes of coal per minute. Her statement said she had already spent £ 36million on mine preparations and that there was “a very real risk that the project would never be delivered”.

The company refused maintenance requests. In a recent filing, he said there was a “reasonable expectation” that the government would approve his plans, but in the meantime he had started a “cost reduction” effort by informing staff members that they would be made redundant and reducing all expenses except those related to the survey.

Opponents of the mine prepare for battle. The Friends of the Earth organization recently held a meeting in Cockermouth, about a half hour drive from Whitehaven, with a small group of volunteers to discuss how to discuss the issue with policymakers and how to prepare for a campaign. door-to-door.

“From a Cumbrian perspective, having a coal mine doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Ruth Balogh, a local Friends of the Earth representative.

In Whitehaven itself, many residents support the mine and are appalled at the worsening outlook.

“For me, this is an opportunity to start building an industry locally,” said Danny Doran, who works at a nuclear research institution. “Children are coming and there is nothing available,” he added, speaking outside his home not far from the site of a former chemical plant where the mine’s processing plants would be built.

Mr Doran and others said they were angered by what they saw as outsiders trying to take away a golden opportunity.

“I think there are too many petting benefactors who don’t live in Whitehaven,” said Barry Patrickson, a waste hauler. He said there were plenty of places to work in Whitehaven, but most had closed. “It’s a ghost town now.”

Some so-called foreigners live in neighboring communities on the edge of the scenic Lake District National Park, a magnet for tourists and those leaving British cities.

At the same time, there are complaints that the government has done little to make Cumbria’s west coast attractive to new investors. The area remains isolated with poor transport links. A train trip to London eats up a day.

“People feel isolated geographically and also quite isolated culturally,” said Suzanne Wilson, a researcher at the University of Central Lancashire, who has studied the community around the proposed mine.

Decades of delay in other parts of Britain have made cities like Whitehaven “vulnerable to exploitation,” said Simon Carr, professor of geography at the University of Cumbria. Local politicians, he said, “will jump on anything to improve economic and social well-being in these areas.”

The mining company seems to appeal to this burning desire for the supposedly better times of yore, even using an old mining museum as its headquarters. “People think that’s what a good job is,” said Kate Willshaw, policy officer for Friends of the Lake District, a conservation group.

Some locals, however, recall the dangers of mining.

“It affected everyone; I don’t understand why anyone wants it, ”said Margaret Telford, whose parents have lost siblings in mining accidents.

In 1947, 104 people died in a disaster at a Whitehaven mine called William Pit when an explosion trapped workers underground. The mine was reputed to be one of Britain’s most dangerous, said Gerard Richardson, a local historian who runs a wine shop. One of Mr. Richardson’s grandfathers was among those who perished.

Yet he supports the mine project. As long as the world needs coal to make steel, he said, “why shouldn’t we have a piece of the pie? “

Mr. Carr and a few others doubt that the mine is doing much more than making a profit for its backers. They say the new jobs would have a limited future as new, cleaner methods are developed for making steel. Whitehaven should mimic areas of North East England like Hull and Teesside, Carr said, looking for green energy jobs like wind power.

But Emma Louise Williamson, a Labor politician at Cumbria County Council, said that while green jobs could be the future, her constituents need jobs now.

“When they take the mine out, which I’m really worried about, we’re back to square one,” she said.

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Newsrust - US Top News: New coal mine for England sparks hopes and fears
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