Why blight the North East with more coal mines?

The UK already has more coal than it needs and is supposed to be phasing out the fuel by 2025 – but more open-cast mines are being planned in the North East, where they will not only blight the region's beautiful landscapes but will damage the environment, increasing air pollution and carbon emissions.

An image of a digger at Shotton Surface Mine in Northumberland
An image of a digger at Shotton Surface Mine in Northumberland

Image: Flickr / Rab,Driver of P300NJB @Grampian Continental

Shotton Surface Mine, an open-cast coal mine in Northumberland operated by Banks Group

Julia Lagoutte

The UK has a deadline for ending the use of coal-powered electricity: 2025. Coal-powered energy production will have to be phased out by then. Already, coal is playing a smaller role in energy production. Government figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) show that the UK already has more than twice the coal it needs before 2025.

So why does it keep building coal mines and importing coal?

Currently the UK imports thermal coal (for power and heat generation) from Colombia, North America and Russia – 1.2 million tonnes in January and February 2019 alone. It also has 26 open-cast mines in the UK, the most recent being an open-cast mine opened by Banks Mining in Bradley, County Durham, in 2018, despite strong public opposition.

The latest proposal is again in the North East of England, near Newcastle. Rachel Featherstone, the Greens’ lead European candidate for the North East, visited the site to highlight the government’s own findings that it has enough coal stockpiled to last until 2025 – proving that this mine is not necessary.

This open cast mine would be on Dewley Hill, near Throckley, and has faced strong local opposition. Open-top mining is more damaging to the environment and to the landscape than the type of coal mining that has featured so heavily in the North East’s recent history. It strips away large areas of topsoil and subsoils and extracts coal using dynamite and heavy machinery.

Featherstone said: “The issue of coal mining is of great concern in the North East, where not only Dewley Hill buts also our treasured Druridge Bay is threatened by a proposed new open cut coal mine, despite strong local opposition.”

UK mines have global impact

But the impact wouldn’t be restricted to Northumberland. If we extract more coal than we need, it will be exported and burnt abroad. To keep within the 1.5ºC temperature increase recommended by last year’s report from the International Panel on Climate Change, fossil fuels must be left in the ground now.

“This is a national issue,” Featherstone continued. “Parliament has declared a climate emergency, but we are still in danger of not just losing wonderful natural environments, but also further driving greenhouse gas emissions globally by exporting coal, when we should be ensuring no more is removed from the ground.”

Moreover, the extraction of coal in Colombia and Russia takes place amidst human rights abuses and environmental destruction. If we have enough coal stockpiled, new mines should not be built here and there is no excuse for importing coal from abroad.

Parliament has declared a climate emergency, but we are still in danger of further driving greenhouse gas emissions globally by exporting coal

With or without climate change, coal mines in the North East are damaging to the environment, increase air pollution and affect our health, as well as blighting the region’s beautiful landscapes. Even in terms of employment opportunities, open cast mining is a non-starter. It creates few jobs compared to the deep coal mining of Thatcher’s era, and especially compared to the large number of high-quality, skilled jobs that investing in renewable energy would create.

Because despite a concerning lack of support towards renewables from the government, they are growing year upon year. And they provide huge opportunities for jobs – jobs that the North East, with the highest unemployment rate in the UK so far in 2019 at 5.4 per cent, badly needs.

A Green New Deal to boost renewables

A Green New Deal would be a better option for the North East – creating thousands of high quality, secure jobs through investing in insulating homes, building and running renewable energy producers and creating more sustainable transport options.

The European elections on 23 May are a key opportunity to send a signal about what kind of future we want. Do we go down the polluting, damaging and dangerous route of coal mining, or towards investment in good jobs and technologies that don’t blight our landscape?

Crucial decisions will be made on 13 June by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government – about whether to continue the Bradley mine in County Durham, and whether to approve the Highthorn Mine at Druridge Bay, Northumberland. This will likely affect the decision Newcastle City Council will take on 14 June about a potential open-cast coal mine near Newcastle (at Dewley Hill, near Throckley).

An MEP who will stand up for local communities in the North East and work to protect its beautiful landscapes, as well as working on a European level to combat climate change and implement a strategy for greener, cleaner energy, will make all the difference.