Whitehaven coal mine: An almighty row only just beginning

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Whitehaven mine siteImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The former Marchon chemical works on the outskirts of Whitehaven is the site of the proposed mine

Governing is about difficult choices; confronting seemingly irreconcilable demands - and making a decision.

So here's the scenario: Coal that is used to make steel is under the Irish Sea off the west Cumbrian coast, one of England's most isolated spots, desperate to attract more private sector jobs, particularly ones that pay well and have a future.

The government is committed to what it calls levelling up, and has won seats in the area long held by Labour.

The government is also committed to being a champion of tackling climate change, and was wrestling with this decision about the coal mine at exactly the same time as hosting the COP climate summit in Glasgow a year ago.

And saying yes then, however comfortable they are with their arguments for doing so, would have looked… awkward.

Well, another climate summit, the recent one in Egypt, has come and gone while ministers have been making their minds up on what to do in Whitehaven.

They asked the Planning Inspectorate to take a look at the whole idea.

Meanwhile, war in Ukraine broke out.

Until then, 40% of the coal needed to make steel in the UK, metallurgical coal, the stuff this new mine will dig up, came from, you guessed it: Russia.

Since then, alternative suppliers have been found, but nonetheless the issue of energy security is a salient one.

Meanwhile plenty are saying it is bonkers to be digging coal out of the ground in 2022, let alone opening a brand new mine to do so.

How on earth do you incentivise finding alternative ways of making steel if you carry on relying on the black stuff?

So, you're the minister, what do you do?

Well, prevaricate — and they did.

But now, finally, a decision.

Deliberately low key; no ministerial visit or Commons statement.

And every expectation it will be appealed.

Labour say it proves Rishi Sunak is a "fossil fuel prime minister in a renewable age."

But would a Labour government shut the mine or stop it opening in a part of the world they are desperate to win back?

The government is arguing their decision is in keeping with their emissions obligations because the alternative would be importing the coal, and alternatives to using coal are a long way off.

And plenty of people in west Cumbria are delighted.

A county with a proud mining heritage sees a proud mining future too.

But not before an almighty row that is only just beginning.

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