- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Giving the green light for a divisive new coal mine in Cumbria would do little to replace imports from Russia, environmentalists and analysts have claimed.
Plans for a new colliery in Whitehaven, which would mine coking coal for the steel industry, are pending approval from Michael Gove, the housing and communities secretary.
Russia's war in Ukraine have renewed calls to approve the mine, this time on the grounds it would help the UK cut stop fossil fuel imports from - and cash flow to - Moscow.
West Cumbria Mining (WCM) said this month that "until recently Russia was supplying almost half of all Britain's steelmaking coal" and supporting the mine would "help slash the need to import foreign coal".
Mike Starkie, the Conservative mayor of Copeland, the constituency that includes Whitehaven, said Russia's war in Ukraine had "demonstrated why we need far more self-reliance for all of our natural resources".
Copeland's Tory MP, Trudy Harrison, said the UK has "typically" imported coking coal from Russia and failing to extract our own would "only serve to increase dependence on overseas coke".
Environmentalists and analysts have now cast doubt on these claims.
Jess Ralston, an analyst at energy think tank ECIU, said the mine would not have a "significant impact on how much we import from Russia" as WCM had already said it expects coal from the mine used in the UK to replace existing US imports.
The mine was initially approved by Cumbria county council in March 2019, but then subjected to a public inquiry after opposition from climate campaigners. WCM told the hearing it expected to export the majority of the coal.
Mr Gove is due to reveal his decision in the coming week. Conservative MPs are divided on the issue, Sky News understands, and approving it could help placate rebels.
Valentin Vogl, a PhD student who worked on a submission to the inquiry, called the argument about reducing Russian imports a "Trojan horse".
"There's quite a discrepancy between what was said in the inquiry and what is now being said about displacing Russian coal," he told Sky News.
"If we were so sure to be able to displace Russian coal by opening this mine, we should have good evidence," he added.
Last year the UK sourced 39% of its coking coal from Russia. Tata Steel, one of the two major steel producers in the UK, told Sky News it had already "stopped doing business with Russia" since the invasion of Ukraine.
The only other major domestic producer, British Steel, has also stopped Russian coal imports. It had previously warned it the composition of the coal from Whitehaven was "an issue" for its mills.
Several green groups - including campaigners Friends of the Earth, lawyers Client Earth and think tanks - have today written to Michael Gove, urging him to reject the plans. "Cumbrian coal would not replace imports from Russia," they said. "West Cumbria Mining are clear that its coal would replace imports from the US."
Last year, as host of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the UK lobbied other countries to "consign coal to history".
Approving the UK's first new coal mine for 30 years would "wave goodbye to our climate credibility", Tony Bosworth, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told Sky News.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities declined to comment until the minister has made the planning decision.
WCM declined to comment on the letter.
Supporters of the mine say its coal would have a smaller carbon footprint than imports and would create around 500 jobs.
Watch the Daily Climate Show at 8.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.
The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.