LONDON (AP) — The U.K. has opened a public inquiry into plans for the country’s first new deep coal mine in three decades amid complaints that permitting the project would send the wrong message as the government seeks to persuade other countries to give up coal.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick ordered the investigation in March, saying the project may conflict with the government’s target for reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Local planning officials in northwest England had previously approved the project proposed by West Cumbria Mining.
The company wants to mine about 3 million tons of coking coal at the site annually, creating 532 direct and 1,618 supply chain jobs. Coking coal is used in the production of steel, not as a source of fuel for factories and power plants.
Even so, climate activists say the project would undermine efforts to decarbonize the steel industry though increased recycling and the development of new techniques that substitute hydrogen for coking coal.
The West Cumbria project also comes at a sensitive moment for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, which is pushing other countries to phase out coal production as it prepares to host the latest U.N. climate summit in November in Glasgow.
“With the world hurtling towards catastrophic climate change, we should be slamming on the brakes, not hitting the accelerator with yet more fossil fuels,’’ said Tony Bosworth, a climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “Areas like Cumbria should be at the forefront of government plans to transform our economy, create new jobs and build the cleaner future we so urgently need.”
The four-week public inquiry is scheduled to end Oct. 1. The planning officer conducting the inquiry will then make a recommendation on whether the government should approve or reject the project, with Jenrick making the final decision.
The main parties in the public inquiry are West Cumbria Mining, Friends of the Earth, and the local environmental group South Lakes Action on Climate Change, which has led opposition to the project. The Cumbria County Council is also participating, even though it has adopted a position of “strict neutrality” on the mine after initially approving the project.
Members of the public have also been asked to comment, with almost 40 scheduled to speak on Wednesday.
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