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SOURCE: The Guardian
DATE: February 4, 2021
SNIP: Plans for the UK’s first deep coalmine in more than 30 years have led to local divisions in Cumbria, even as it becomes an international issue over the country’s climate change commitments.

James Hansen, one of the world’s foremost voices on the climate, this week took the unusual step of sending Boris Johnson a strongly worded letter warning that if the mine was allowed to proceed it would lead to “ignominy and humiliation” for the UK.

He said the plans for the mine showed a “contemptuous disregard for the future of young people”. He hoped the prime minister would take the chance to help the UK change the world’s climate trajectory by showing the “acumen and gumption” to be a global leader on environmental issues.

Work is due to begin on the mine as early as this year after the county council gave the green light to the £165m Woodhouse Colliery scheme, and the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, waved through the plans. The mine will dig up coking coal for steel production from beneath the Irish Sea, and will emit 8.4m tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

The promise of up to 500 new jobs is persuasive for the region: west Cumbria has seen years of redundancies and high unemployment rates after the closure of the Marchon chemical works, the decommissioning of the Sellafield nuclear facility and the scrapping of plans for another nuclear site.

Local support for the project has been spearheaded by the Conservative MP for Copeland, Trudy Harrison, who won the seat from Labour in a byelection and retained it in 2019. The case for coal in the area and other parts of the north of England has also been made by the new “red wall” Tory MP for Workington, Mark Jenkinson.

[T]here is also strong local opposition to the mine and at least two legal challenges in the pipeline – one on climate change grounds and the other part of a campaign brought by local objectors who fear that drilling could trigger subsidence near areas with high concentrations of radioactive material in the seabed, the result of years of nuclear waste disposal.

The former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron – Cumbria’s only non-Conservative MP – believes the mine would be “a complete disaster for our children’s futures”.

The local divisions echo the rows playing out at a national level, with the government’s climate change chief, Alok Sharma, said to be furious at the decision to let the mine proceed. The Times quoted a civil servant as saying Sharma was “apoplectic … There was just disbelief that a decision like this could have been made.”