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THE COMPANY behind plans for a new coal mine in west Cumbria has set out its case for the project – attracting criticism from Green MP Caroline Lucas.

Just a week before a public inquiry into the Woodhouse Colliery plan is to start, West Cumbria Mining (WCM) has published a detailed explanation of why it believes the mine is necessary and acceptable, claiming it will “directly” create 532 jobs.

It would also, claims the mine company, generate more than 1,600 jobs ‘indirectly.”

The company’s claims were attacked by Ms Lucas, England’s only Green Party MP. She described the proposal as a “backward step,” saying it would tarnish the UK’s standing in a world at a time when economies need to abandon fossil fuels.Environmental activists have repeatedly spoken of the urgent need to tackle what they – and an international panel of experts – have described as a climate “emergency”.

The debate is a foretaste of the arguments that are likely to be aired during the forthcoming public inquiry into the plan, which is likely to be keenly followed by campaigners from both sides of the debate.

The proposed mine aims to supply the British and European steel industry with metallurgical coal – considered ‘essential” for the manufacture of steel, says the firm.

WCM says the coking coal it wants to supply was recently identified as a ‘critical raw material’ by EU Commission and is ‘indispensable” for the steel industry’s “transition to climate neutrality.’

The firm says British steelmakers currently import all their metallurgical coal for the UK’s steel manufacturers at Scunthorpe and Port Talbot. As a result, metallurgical coal is being railed and shipped thousands of added miles from overseas mines to customers in the UK and EU.

Additional emissions connected with this long-distance production, handling and transportation are thus being ‘off-shored’, claims WCM.

In a statement, the firm today said that Woodhouse Colliery would be “net carbon zero” for all aspects of the mining process from day one.

The firm adds: “The Woodhouse Colliery project will create 532 direct and 1,618 indirect jobs and deliver new UK exports, which are forecast to reduce the UK balance of trade deficit by around 1.8% annually.

It will deliver £130 million in annual spend in Cumbria when the project is in full production.

“The project is fully compliant with Government climate change policies alongside its wider Industrial Strategy, as a vital part of the steel industry supply chain.The mine, it is claimed, would not be reliant upon any public funding and will represent a substantial post Brexit/COVID-19 inward investment into the UK economy.”

Mark Kirkbride, the Chief Executive of WCM, said: ‘We have considered the climate impacts of the project in great detail and implemented significant and world leading techniques to demonstrate that the resources industry can also achieve net carbon zero operations.”I believe this will become a core part of the social licence to operate resource projects and we fully comply with the Climate Change Committee carbon budgets and proposed net zero test.”

Ms Lucas said: “However West Cumbria Mining tries to dress this up and greenwash it with claims of being ‘net carbon zero’, its coalmine is the wrong development at the wrong time.

“This mine wouldn’t only take us in the opposite direction to where we need to be going on carbon emissions, it is also tarnishing what reputation the UK has on climate action and undermining the Government’s chance of persuading other nations to cut their carbon emissions.

“It is a giant step backwards for the climate and for the local economy.

“Cumbria needs jobs, but they must be long-term sustainable jobs in the green economy, not a throw-back to a fossil fuel age we urgently need to leave behind.”

Her comments were echoed by Green Party Eden district councillor Ali Ross, who said: “Of course, jobs are important – but not at any price. These jobs would be in such a carbon intensive field, producing the most carbon intensive form of fuel – fossil fuels.

“The price we’d pay for jobs such as this would be too high.

“There are so many jobs which are there to be done in reducing our carbon footprint – not just in Cumbria but across the whole of the country. That includes renewable energy, and retro-fitting homes which are not as energy efficient as they should be.

“The Government should be investing in green jobs, which west Cumbria would be well suited to.”

Reacting to the claim that the new mine would be “carbon neutral,” Ms Ross said: “That’s a misrepresentation. They’re only considering emissions from the operation of the mine.

“They’re not considering the actual product, the coal, which would lead to huge levels of emissions.

“And in terms of the production of steel, it is clearly a vital product – but there are now viable alternatives to using coking coal to produce it.”

In an earlier statement, west Cumbrian Green Party activist Jill Perry highlighted Local Government Association had published research, Local Green Jobs – accelerating a sustainable economic recovery, which shows that 861 jobs could be created in Copeland, 1,170 in Allerdale and 1,802 in Barrow – far outweighing the 500 jobs promised by WCM.

“Given the uncertainty surrounding the jobs in mining, this seems an infinitely preferable option,” she added.

Last month, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 6th Assessment Report on the Physical Science Basis of climate change – the most alarming report on the issue so far.

The report was described as a “Code Red” for humanity, highlighting the scale of the unfolding climate emergency and need for countries and governments to take rapid action to reduce emissions.

The report warned of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding, with key temperature limits being broken in just over a decade. “This is a code red for humanity”, said a UN spokesman for the panel.