Yet coal is needed in the UK whether it is dug up in Cumbria or not.
Coal hewn from this new mine is not destined for electricity generation – the fuel’s use has been slashed in the past decade and is scheduled to be phased out completely over the next three years, despite a coal plant in Lincoln being fired up this week after global energy costs spiked.
Either way, this mine would produce coking coal, an essential ingredient for making iron and steel currently imported from countries such as Russia, Poland and Australia. The Cumbrian mine would offer a local source instead.
It makes the debate rather more complicated than it might appear on the surface.
West Cumbria Mining says it can set up a greener mine which will be “net carbon zero for all aspects of the mining process and delivery of the product to UK customers or port for onward shipping to European customers”.
Its methods would include “renewable electricity, methane gas capture and elimination, microgrid power generation, green bio-fuel and gold standard carbon offsetting.”
The company says Britain imports 2m tonnes of coal per year for steel manufacture and argues it can help cut emissions by replacing dirtier materials from elsewhere.
Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland, which stands to host the mine, backs the plan on environmental and economic grounds.
“During the year of COP26, it is right to shine a light on carbon intensive industries, with steel making being responsible for around 6.7pc of global CO2, and to strive for the necessary research and development towards cleaner, greener alternatives,” she says.
“But in parallel, when the private sector is keen to invest £165m in West Cumbria, potentially creating 532 direct jobs and more than 1,600 in-direct jobs, and then contributing £1.8bn to GDP in the first 10 years to develop a source of essential and particularly high-quality metallurgical coal – never to be used in power stations anywhere, ever – Copeland is keen to welcome Woodhouse Colliery.”
She adds that low carbon technologies and a domestic steel industry are key if the UK wants a future leadership position in climate-related industries.
It is part of a bigger question over how much heavy industry will take place in Britain – the steel industry needs coal, and decarbonising requires steel. If it is not made here, it will be imported.