Ed Davey: Scrap the new Cumbrian coal mine

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Ed Davey has welcomed the decision to review the planning permission of a new coal mine in Cumbria:

The Liberal Democrats have long called for a rethink on plans on for a new coal mine in Cumbria and I am delighted that’s exactly what has happened.

If Boris Johnson is serious about climate action he will call on Cumbria county council to scrap the mine

Cumbria County Council now need to do the right thing and throw these plans out, or the Prime Minister must intervene to make sure the coal mine is scrapped.

It’s astonishing that a new coal mine in Britain is even being considered – particularly the year we are hosting the vital COP26 conference.

If Boris Johnson is serious about climate action he will call on Cumbria county council to scrap the mine.

The Government needs to transform its attitude to the climate emergency. That is why I have proposed a £150 billion green coronavirus recovery plan, reshaping our economy to protect the future of our country and our planet.

This is a once in a lifetime chance to solve the massive crisis we are in, we can’t afford to miss it.

Elsewhere on Liberal Democrat Voice, John Studholme writes about this issue.

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  • Ed has got it wrong. Getting others to make our steel, probably with a larger environmental footprint, then shipping it around the world, is much worse.

    It is virtue signalling. You cannot manufacture steel from green virtue.

  • John Marriott 16th Feb '21 - 1:18pm

    OK, Sir Ed; but how then do you intend to fire the blast furnaces in Scunthorpe, for example? Presumably on IMPORTED coking coal. Or are you proposing to restart our steel production when some boffin in the future has perfected a way of using hydrogen.

    The trouble is, the world won’t wait while we salve our consciences. Unless, of course, you are happy for the U.K. to buy other countries’ steel.

  • Jenny Barnes 16th Feb '21 - 1:50pm

    So use less steel. The best place to make steel would be the mediterranean coast of N. Africa. Lots of sunshine for solar electricity.

  • David Evans 16th Feb '21 - 2:36pm

    Jenny, you may well be right from one point of view, but sourcing our steel from an area of such extreme political instability, would be highly irresponsible.

  • David Evershed 16th Feb '21 - 3:22pm

    Ed Davey has chosen the wrong ground on which to fight.

    The local council approved the plans for mining coking coal. Has he consulted the local Lib Dems who run the County Council in alliance with the Labour party?

    Seems to be another example of HQ not listening to local Lib Dems and paying lip service to localism.

  • “Vote Lib Dem, scrap the Steel Industry”.

    Note sure if this is the right call by Ed

  • Barry Lofty 16th Feb '21 - 3:44pm

    I too cannot agree with Ed Davey on this topic, I am afraid this is where I differ with the Lib Dems and others with their rather blinkered and might I say naive approach to environmental matters!

  • Wrong call, Sir Edward.

    The UK imports and transports 45 per cent of its coking coal from the USA, 33 per cent from Russia and 19 per cent from Australia plus from others as :

    ( UK coking coal imports by country 2002-2019 | Statistawww.statista.com › Chemicals & Resources › Fossil Fuels, 27 Jan 2021, Coking coal imports to the United Kingdom (UK) 2002-2019, by country from USA, Russia, Australia, EU, Canada, China, Colombia, South Africa .

    Has Sir Edward calculated the carbon footprint for any of this ? He supports HS2, Crossrail and railway expansion, yet even Hornby 00 models run on steel rails.

    And then there’s the Hinckley Point EDF contract…… and later connections with EDF) and the true carbon footprint of importing biomass (made from trees) from the USA for Drax power station.

    It’s beginning to look like there should have been a bit more scrutiny last September.

  • @David E – Tim Farron has been opposing this mine from the start and probably knows a bit about Cumbria!
    I think he has calculated the carbon footprint as well.
    Why are other commenters talking about steel?

  • Paul Barker 16th Feb '21 - 5:44pm

    Good to see Ed showing courage & taking the Enviromental Crisis seriously. We are living through the 6th Mass Extinction event & it is by no means certain that we wont be one of the species lost.

  • @Jenny – Steel making is very energy intensive, far bejond the scope of solar. It also requires reliable and continuous energy for obvious reasons. That rules out wind. Some furnaces cannot be allowed to cool because the refractory linings would be destroyed.

  • @ Cassie, The sixteen Liberal Democrat County Councillors also live in Cumbria. It’s a fair guess they also “know a bit about Cumbria”. As I understand it they supported the scheme having heard the evidence in detail.

    You can take my word for this having lived and worked in Cumbria for thirty five years – for part of which I served as a Liberal/Lib Dem Councillor and led the groups on S. Lakeland and Eden Councils.

  • @Paul Barker
    Thank you, Paul. You sparked my interest in the 6th Mass Extinction Event to which you referred. It is speculation by Professor Daniel Rothman of MIT that mathematical analysis of the carbon cycle over 540 million years suggests that fatal perturbations in the carbon cycle can indicate such events.

    Interesting as it is, I don’t think it has immediate bearing on our current need for steel production capability and whether the solution is to get foreigners to make it for us as Ed recommends by implication. Ed’s preference is to increase the carbon footprint, reduce essential capability security, destroy the possibility of jobs in Cumbria and further jeapardise the the croitical mass of steel making in the UK.

    But, hey, it make Ed feel Green and look Green.

  • @ Paul Barker Cutting down the carbon footprint of imported coking coal from the USA, Russia and Australia is “taking the Environmental Crisis seriously”.

  • Little Jackie Paper 16th Feb '21 - 7:47pm

    But it is a wider and coming issue. What will come back in vogue now is national self sufficiency. What you think of that is another matter.

    Coal, steel, food, PPE, medicine. If you you are reliant on global JIT supply chains 2020 showed the risk you run.

    The days of outsourcing production and indeed emissions to Asia may well be gone – perhaps it’s not a bad thing.

  • David R: the only merit in the coal mine is new jobs. Which is presumably why the council supported it originally. The council itself has now decided to have a re-think.
    The argument against is how can we take any kind of lead on climate change if we are doing the opposite at home? ‘Jobs at any price?’
    BTW, BBC report says: ‘government’s advisors, the Climate Change Committee, said 85% of the Cumbrian coal would be exported’.
    As I understand it, the UK’s steel industry is moving towards cleaner energy sources so won’t need coal much longer.

  • @Cassie, I suspect you have got this all wrong.
    The coke is nothing to do with an energy source for the production of steel, it is a vital raw material. Steel = Iron + Carbon. The grade of coal being mined supplies this carbon.

    I have zero confidence in Gummer and his committee and zero confidence in the BBC. You have reinforced my judgement.

  • @ Cassie The Climate Change Committee (as I understand it) didn’t compare the carbon footprint of the coking coal (plus transport to the UK) imported from Russia, the USA, Australia and Colombia with that in the proposed new (efficient) mine.

    It would also be interesting to compare workers rights and conditions in those countries.Can you produce any evidence ?

  • Anybody who objects to this can’t moan in future if

    1. We are held to ransom for the Coal for our steel industry
    2. The steel industry shuts in the UK with the loss of all the jobs
    3. We are held to ransom for steel in the future after the loss of the steel industry

  • John Marriott 17th Feb '21 - 8:22am

    “The only merit in the coal mine is new jobs”. And what about the new and old jobs in places like Scunthorpe or Port Talbot? What about our not relying on imported coking coal to fire the blast furnaces to produce the steel we clearly still need? Perhaps we really COULD rely on what Ms Barnes delightfully calls “engineered timber” – what a great mélange of the old and new technologies is contained is the combining of these two words” – in my mind at least.

    OK, let’s just rely on imported coal and be beholden to Mr Putin perhaps. Better still, let’s shut down all those beastly steel works and let’s just import all our steel. Even better than that,, let’s make the UK a ‘coal free’ zone. So what do I tell my grandchildren, when they stop running all those vintage steam trains because the one fuel needed to make them work is unavailable?

  • Robin Grayson 17th Feb '21 - 8:46am

    Once more to the breach my friends.
    It is politically nice to close it before it opens – strangle before birth indeed.
    But with respect it is simply not the case it will have a measurable impact on the CO2 planetary levels.

    Proof? Here is the biggest change on the planet of the international coal trade,
    causing the general collapse of Australia’s huge exports of coal, notably coking coal.

    Evidence? Mile-long convoys of huge trucks daily shift Mongolian coal, especially coking coal, across the China border, enabling China to end massive coal imports from Australia.

    This is just the beginning.
    Jiayou International, through its wholly-owned subsidiaries of Jiachen International and Jasn International, signed a total of 6 million tonnes primary coking coal supply chain trade contract with Bodi International, to meet the rising demand from its customers in Chinese steel mills and coke plants, the company announced on February 8.

    The supply will come from Tavan Tolgoi coal mine in Mongolia.

    Registered in Mongolia, Bodi International is the general contractor of Tavan Tolgoi-Gashuunsukhait railway project under Erdenes-TavanTolgoi JSC (ETT). According to a financing agreement between the two parties, ETT will use coal to pay for the construction costs of Bodi International.

    ETT, a Mongolian state-owned coal miner, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mongolian Erdenes Mongol LLC. It mainly operates TavanTolgoi coal mine at 190 kilometers away from the Gashuunsukhait/Ganqimaodu border crossings on the Mongolia-China border.

    TavanTolgoi coal mine is the largest coal field in Mongolia and one of the most competitive coal fields in the world, holding estimate reserves of 6.4 BILLION tonnes, including 1.8 BILLION tonnes of high-grade primary coking coal and 4.6 BILLION tonnes of thermal coal.

    Already nearly a thousand huge coal trucks take coal to China from other Mongolian mines. Frankly, indulging in debating about the pros and cos of a tiddly col mine in Cumbria is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    Go to Mongolia to see for yourself. We have a British Embassy that should send feedback to our Government, Lords and MPs as a matter of urgency. Does it?

  • Peter Martin 17th Feb '21 - 10:22am

    @ Peter,

    ” Steel = Iron + Carbon. The grade of coal being mined supplies this carbon.”

    You’re talking nonsense as usual. If the carbon content of the coal was simply captured by the iron in the steel making process, there would be no complaints. But it isn’t. Nearly all of it ends up in the atmosphere as CO2 gas. This is because the prime purpose of the coal is to produce coke which is then burnt to provide the high temperatures needed for the steel making process. The carbon content of steel is typically less than 1%. The most common grades of mild steel have less than 0.5% carbon.

    It is technically possible to produce steel without using fossil fuels but it is difficult. The process would be hopelessly uncompetitive in conventional economic terms. But let’s get the facts right. It does help if you know what you are talking about to start with.

  • Peter Martin 17th Feb '21 - 10:48am

    Maybe the wording of “hopelessly uncompetitive” in my previous comment was a little pessimistic.

    Coke is essentially just coal with most of the hydrocarbons removed to leave almost pure carbon. There’s no reason in principle why coke cannot be made from biomass. Except it is usually called charcoal. The Australians have done some work on using biomass in the steel making process. See link below.

    This could even be combined by a carbon capture process to remove CO2 from the emissions in the steel making process. So it’s all possible even if more difficult than what we usually do at the moment.


  • I disagree with many of the comments above…

    The government figures admit that 85% of the new mines production is already earmarked for export to Europe and make only a passing reference to ‘Continued steel production in the UK”..Instead of ‘reducing coal use’ the 85% export significantly increases the wider use of coal..

    Regarding steel… the new mine will produce coal with a high sulphur content making it unsuitable for steel coke without expensive major investment in sulphur abatement technology so, perhaps, that is why neither of the major steelmakers in the UK (British Steel at Scunthorpe and Tata at Port Talbot) has committed to buying its coal?
    BTW..In August 2019, the government announced a Clean Steel Fund of £250 million, which is designed, in its words, “to transition to lower carbon steel production through new technologies and processes, placing the sector on a pathway consistent with the UK Climate Change Act (net zero)” so why the need for a new plant?

    The UK already has a surplus of coal ( coal already dug is more than ample to last until 2025 when the last coal powered station will close) The ‘steel gambit’ appears to be a bit of a ‘mote’ compared with the ‘beam’ of exporting coal…

  • Geoffrey Clark 17th Feb '21 - 1:21pm

    Thank you Ed for speaking out on this issue and taking the climate crisis seriously. As a Lib Dem member in West Cumbria I have been disheartened by the support of many in the local party for this project and the message this sends nationally and internationally about this most critical issue, so it is good to see our leadership taking a stand.

  • expats 17th Feb ’21 – 10:58am:
    Instead of ‘reducing coal use’ the 85% export significantly increases the wider use of coal..

    As I understand it, those exports are destined for Europe, replacing imports from Russia, the Americas, and Australia…

    ‘Carrying coals to Germany: Imports still vital despite sagging demand’:

    In the January-October period of 2019, Germany’s hard coal imports from Russia (including steam and coking coal) made up 45% of all shipments from abroad. Another 19% came from the US, with fellow EU nations combined and Australia sharing third position at 11% each.

  • john oundle 17th Feb '21 - 3:17pm

    john marriott

    ‘OK, Sir Ed; but how then do you intend to fire the blast furnaces in Scunthorpe, for example? Presumably on IMPORTED coking coal. Or are you proposing to restart our steel production when some boffin in the future has perfected a way of using hydrogen.’

    Spot on.

    Lets import the coal from Russia or Poland & cause an even larger carbon foot print, deny new well paid jobs in a high unemployment area but rejoice in our virtue signalling.

  • Jenny Barnes 17th Feb '21 - 4:42pm

    The carbon in the iron/steel production process is to reduce the iron ore:
    2Fe2O3+3C + heat -> 4Fe + 3CO2… the heat can be provided by more coke burning, ofc.
    theoretically you can do this with Hydrogen Fe2O3 +3H2 -> 2Fe +3H2O.

    And you can make lots of hydrogen from concentrated solar power plants 🙂

  • There seem to be a lot of ‘what abouts?’ above. Not to mention the leap from ‘opening one coal mine’ to the apparent demise of the remains of the British steel industry if we don’t. (I don’t see any clamour to open new pits in South Wales to ‘save’ Port Talbot, by the way, so I guess they aren’t that bothered if there’s a new mine or not).
    The question remains: do you want jobs at any price?
    Cumbria has suffered repeated horrendous flooding in recent years, wrecking homes, businesses, washing away bridges and railway lines: I’d say climate change is more of interest to our grand children than heritage railway not having a local source of coal.

  • @Peter – Ed has got it wrong. Getting others to make our steel, probably with a larger environmental footprint, then shipping it around the world, is much worse.
    Err no, the key consideration is that shipping ores around the world is worse than shipping steel around the world. So we need to look at the shipping miles for the steel production raw materials supply chain.

    What is a little surprising is just how backward Australia’s politicians are, they have all the relevant ores/raw materials, but prefer to ship the ores to overseas steel works rather than produce steel and ship that.

  • David Evans 18th Feb '21 - 2:08am

    Jenny Barnes, Please pay attention. Carbon is a key component of steel, not simply a provider of energy. Your equation should have shown you that your logic was inadequate.

    Likewise you have ignored the political risk which I pointed out to you two days ago. Lib Dems normally believe in education, but to do that you have to listen to responses, not blithely ignore them.

  • Replying to Jenny Barnes and David Evans : would investing in the N African coast reduce the political instability?. It sounds a great idea to me. What would life without steel be like by the way? I’m asking these questions because I know nothing about economics but I do know the planet is stuffed unless we reduce the carbon footprint globally

  • Jeff 17th Feb ’21 – 1:27pm….expats, As I understand it, those exports are destined for Europe, replacing imports from Russia, the Americas, and Australia…

    Even if there is a reduction in coal production in Russia, the Americas, and Australia (which I doubt as they will just look for new markets)…The reasoning for the new mine is that the UK will increase its carbon footprint in order to to reduce Russia’s?

  • Meg, I very much doubt it. There was a massive investment in tourism in parts of Tunisia. For a while it seemed to produce some progress, but ultimately It didn’t help. Likewise investment in oil and gas in Libya and Algeria. That didn’t help.

    It takes more than pouring in pots of money backed up by good intentions to turn around decades of poverty, corruption, mistrust, inter factional warfare, repression and even hatred. That takes many decades of hard work just to have a chance that it will work, and there will be many setbacks along the way.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Feb '21 - 11:31am

    ” you have to listen to responses, not blithely ignore them.”

    Never wrestle with a pig. You both get muddy but the pig enjoys it.

  • Jenny Barnes 18th Feb '21 - 11:36am

    Investint in the N. African coast – could work in relatively democratic Tunisia. Just maybe in Libya. High risk, ofc, so would require government backing.

    Life without steel. Engineered timber for building, aluminium/ plastic for cars…Although aluminium would need work too.

    Logical way forward here would be to apply a carbon tax, use the proceeds to fund UBI.
    then it’s revenue neutral, and lots of ingenuity gets applied.

  • David Garlick 18th Feb '21 - 3:21pm

    I agree with Ed.

  • nvelope2003 20th Feb '21 - 4:34pm

    No other government or nation, including the US, cares a hoot about what message the UK or any other Western Government sends out. They will do what they want and just snigger at our pathetic response. Most people know this. Get real.

  • John Littler 20th Feb '21 - 7:57pm

    It was argued that the mine was green because coke had to be imported, increasing greenhouse gasses from moving the stuff. This mine is intended as 85% for export. How does that make it green.

    If there is going to be any hope of stopping run away climate change, difficult decisions are going to have to be made and the steel heating process is being developed using Hydrogen. Having cheap coke locally would discourage that.

    Tory policy is about getting elected pretending that they will be the greenest ever, dumping or forgetting the fakery after a while, starving the north of various fundings, failing to follow any active Industrial strategy to encourage industry & refusing to protect the steel industry from predatory dumping from China.

    After maintaining the most unequal share of the cake anywhere in Europe compared to London & S.East and running down the steel industry, the Tories say, but of course you can have a filthy coal mine, break Environmental undertakings and discourage the development of alternative processes.

  • David Sheppard 21st Feb '21 - 7:38pm

    Ed is right we don’t encourage bad behaviour and coal mining and burning coal should be limited to classic steam engines only.

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