A New Coal Mine for Britain Mixes Hopes and Fears


WHITEHAVEN, UK – The UK has been out of the coal business for the last 100 years. The fuel that had turned an island nation into a dark manufacturing giant during the Industrial Revolution has been steadily replaced by oil, natural gas, and in recent years, increasingly by offshore winds and solar radiation.

So the proposal to dig a new coal mine for the first time in decades in Whitehaven, a faded port town in northwest England, sparked so much interest – enthusiasm from some, disgust from others.

And it put Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a difficult position. As we prepare to host the UN climate conference COP26 in autumnThe proposal forces him to choose between economic development for a region eager for new investments or polishing his environmental credentials as climate change dominates the political debate.

West Cumbria Mining’s proposal calls for an investment of £160m, or $218m, in a mine that will create more than 500 well-paid jobs worth up to £60,000 a year. Coal would be used not in power plants but in steelmaking, an industry still heavily dependent on coal.

The mine would make it easier for British steelmakers to rely on imported coal to run their mills.

“If it’s not mined here, it will be brought in from somewhere else,” said Mike Starkie, mayor of the Whitehaven area, which was once a coal mining hub. He became a supporter of the project shortly after winning the elections six years ago.

While using coal to make steel produces greenhouse gases, Mr. Starkie pointed out that steel is essential for green energy – for example, to make wind turbines.

“I don’t think anyone would argue that this is very positive for the local economy,” he said. This sentiment is widely shared in Whitehaven, where residents remember the coal mining jobs that once instilled family incomes and supported 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. Like Britain’s coal production fell more than 90 percent Over the past decade, the country has aggressively advocated renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Mr Johnson said he wanted to make Britain the “Saudi Arabia of the wind”.

Critics say a new mine in Whitehaven could undermine the credibility of Mr Johnson, who is trying to persuade countries like China and India to burn less coal.

“If you’re going to make phasing out coal globally a priority, you can’t have a coal mine,” said Doug Parr, chief scientist at environmental group Greenpeace England.

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

But Mr Johnson is under pressure to support the economies of northern constituencies, such as Cumbria County and the Whitehaven district, which became Conservative after decades as a Labor stronghold. Major local employers have closed over the years, including a chemical plant and a steel mill.

Trudy Harrison, along with local Member of Parliament Mr. Starkie, also supports the project. Both are Conservative, party led by Mr Johnson.

A planning committee of the Cumbria County Council approved the mine three times, but the threat of legal difficulties stopped it. In March, in an unconventional move, Mr Johnson’s government intervened and said it would decide the matter, arguing that the mine’s implementation raises “issues of more than local importance”.

An agency is expected to begin its review in early September. He will make a recommendation, but Mr Johnson’s government will have the final word.

West Cumbria Mining, backed by Australian private equity firm EMR Capital, said at the time it was “very disappointed” by the government’s action. The company said it will use modern, safe use. Mining machines that can extract around 30 metric tons of coal per minute. The statement said the mine has already spent £36m on preparations and there is “a very real risk that the project will never be delivered”.

The company declined requests for interviews. Inside final filingHe said there was a “reasonable expectation” that the government would approve his plans, but meanwhile he began the “cost-saving” effort by telling staff he would be fired and cutting all costs except those related to the investigation. .

The opponents of the mine are preparing for war. Friends of the Earth recently held a meeting in Cockermouth, about half an hour’s drive from Whitehaven, with a small group of volunteers to talk about how to discuss the issue with decision makers and prepare a door-to-door campaign.

“For Cumbrian, it doesn’t make much sense to have a coal mine,” said Ruth Balogh, local representative of Friends of the Earth.

In Whitehaven itself, many residents support the mine and are horrified that their prospects are waning.

“To me, this is an opportunity to start building an industry locally,” said Danny Doran, who works at a nuclear research institution. “The kids are coming and we have nothing,” he added, speaking outside his home, not far from the site of an old chemical factory where the mine’s processing plants will be built.

Mr. Doran and others said they were offended by what they thought were strangers trying to steal a golden opportunity.

“I think there are a lot of well-meaning people who don’t live in Whitehaven who are meddling,” said garbage shipper Barry Patrickson. He said there are many places to work in Whitehaven, but most have closed. “It’s a ghost town now.”

Some so-called foreigners live in close communities on the fringes of the scenic Lake District National Park, which is a magnet for tourists and people relocating from British cities.

At the same time, there are rumors that the government is doing little to make the West Cumbrian coast attractive to new investors. The area remains isolated with poor transport links. A train ride to London takes one day.

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

Simon Carr, a professor of geography at the University of Cumbria, said falling decades behind other parts of England leaves towns like Whitehaven “open to exploitation”. Local politicians “will jump at everything to improve economic and social welfare in these areas,” he said.

Even if the mining company once used a mining museum as its headquarters, it seems to appeal to this longing for the so-called better times of the ancients. “People think it’s good business,” said Kate Willshaw, policy officer for Friends of the Lake District, a conservation group.

Still, some locals remember the dangers of mining.

“It affected everyone; I don’t understand why anyone would want that,” said Margaret Telford, His parents lost their brothers in mining accidents.

104 people died in 1947 A disaster at a Whitehaven mine named William Pit when an explosion leaves workers stranded underground. Gerard Richardson, a local historian who runs a wine shop, said the mine is recognized as one of the most dangerous mines in England. One of Mr Richardson’s grandfathers was among the dead.

Still, he supports the mining project. As long as the world needs coal for steelmaking, “Why not get a slice of the pie?” said.

Mr. Carr and others doubt that the mine will do much more than just make a profit for its supporters. They say new jobs will have a limited future as new, cleaner ways to make steel are developed. White Paradise Should emulate northeastern England areas like Hull and TeessideMr. Carr said by going into green energy businesses like wind power.

But Emma Louise Williamson, Labor politician in the Cumbria County Council, said that while green jobs are in the future, her voters need to work now.

“When they take the mine, which I’m really nervous about, we’re back to the beginning,” he said.


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