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Official papers reveal a significant flaw in the government's justification for a coalmine in Cumbria.
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Official papers reveal a significant flaw in the government’s justification for a coalmine in Cumbria.

Newly discovered records have surfaced that seem to challenge the justification for the government’s proposal to establish a coalmine in Cumbria.

In December 2022, Michael Gove, the secretary in charge of levelling up, gave the green light to construction of Woodhouse Colliery near Whitehaven. He stated that the coal would be necessary for the UK to continue producing steel.

The recently disclosed papers, written around the same period by the former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), contradict this. According to these documents, officials have a strong belief that technology, such as electric arc furnaces, will effectively decrease carbon emissions in UK steel production by 2035.

Tony Bosworth, a member of Friends of the Earth, stated that this latest information significantly undermines the government’s argument in favor of the planned Cumbria coalmine.

“Approval for the mine was granted by Michael Gove 14 months ago, who stated that it was necessary due to significant doubts about the UK steel industry’s ability to reduce carbon emissions in the next 15 years.”

“Recent findings reveal that government officials were confident about the industry’s shift away from coal during the same time period.”

Friends of the Earth obtained the documents from DESNZ, which took over for BEIS, through a legal process as part of their efforts to challenge the government’s climate strategy.

Prepared for the government’s 2023 carbon budget delivery plan, the “risk tables” examine potential risks to the policies outlined in the plan, which was released in March of last year.

The document specifies that all steel production should switch to using electricity instead of traditional methods by the year 2035. It also states with confidence that this policy is achievable because of the reliability and effectiveness of technologies for reducing emissions in steel-making, specifically the use of electric arc furnaces.

The production of steel involves subjecting iron ore or previously used steel to a rigorous heating process. While in the past, coal-fired blast furnaces were utilized for this process, modern electric arc furnaces utilize electricity to generate the necessary high temperatures. These technologies have been used for many years and have demonstrated to significantly reduce emissions compared to traditional coal-fired blast furnaces, according to the BEIS document.

The stance presented contradicts Gove’s previous support for the new mine. In his letter authorizing the project, Gove stated that there was no guarantee that arc furnaces or other alternative methods would have a significant impact on steel production. He also emphasized the importance of a consistent supply of metallurgical coal in the UK for the foreseeable future.

“It is evident that the steel industry in Europe and the UK currently depends on an adequate supply of metallurgical coal. While there is potential for this dependence to decrease in the future, the available evidence indicates that there will still be a demand for coal in these regions.”

With an expected production capacity of about 2.8m tonnes of coal a year, the £165m Woodhouse Colliery would create 500 jobs locally, with advocates seeing it as a means of “levelling up” deprived parts of north-west England. But Gove overruled significant opposition to approve the mine, including from senior colleagues in his own party.

2 to the atmosphere.

A statement from Sir Alok Sharma, member of Parliament for Reading West and former president of Cop26, the UN climate summit held in Glasgow, deemed the mine as a “regressive move”. This was supported by Lord Deben, former chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), who described it as “unjustifiable”. Based on the CCC’s estimation, the mine’s operations would result in an additional 400,000 tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere.2 emissions every year.

The recent shutdown of the final blast furnaces in the UK, located at British Steel’s Scunthorpe site and Tata Steel’s Port Talbot site, has raised more concerns about the justification for the mine. Both companies have expressed a desire to switch to electric arc furnaces, and the government has committed to providing at least £500m to support Tata Steel’s shift, with anticipated similar assistance for British Steel.

Bosworth expressed shock at the inconsistency in the government’s stance on steel. While they argue that the UK steel sector will require coal for many years, they are also providing substantial funds from taxpayers to aid in its speedy transition to a low-carbon industry.

The current government’s unclear reasoning needs to be put to an end. Officials from all government sectors must acknowledge that the steel industry is transitioning away from coal, and therefore retract their backing for this harmful and needless mine. Additionally, this action would aid in repairing the UK’s reputation on a global scale regarding climate change.

Ministers must prioritize regions such as west Cumbria in a green industrial strategy, generating new employment and business prospects and leading the way in constructing a cleaner future that is critically necessary.

Friends of the Earth is currently taking the government to court over the new mine. Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities declined to comment, citing the continuing legal action. DESNZ did not respond to a request for comment.

Source: theguardian.com