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Campaign to stop Aberpergwm - the story so far

Discovery

At the end of November 2021, we noticed the licence application for an extension to 'Aberpergwm Colliery' in South Wales on the little-publicised webpage of the Coal Authority (regulator for all coal mining across the UK). This webpage contains a listing of all coal mine licences and licence applications and is a good one to bookmark and check back regularly.

We noticed the application was made in 16/09/2020, so we knew it could be awarded a licence tomorrow or in a year's time. But after checking no other group was campaigning on this already, we sprung into action to ensure licencing wasn't just waved through. In early December we started raising awareness of the licence application over social media, and shared key facts about the coal mine.

Governments deny responsibility

We spoke with Minister Lee Waters of the Welsh Government who insisted the his Government cannot use their powers under the Wales Act 2017 to stop the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion - since the licence's origins dates back before the Wales Act 2017 came into force. Therefore, it was for the UK Government to stop this licence. But the UK Government publicly disagreed in a BBC article on November 4th, arguing that the Welsh Government can apply the Wales Act 2017, and for that reason it would not be appropriate for the UK Government to step in.

In short, both the Welsh and UK Governments pointed the finger of blame at each other and neither would take responsibility nor resolve the issue between them, which actually had the power to intervene.

Mass email action

Coal Action Network launched a mass email campaign on 20/12/2021, encouraging our supporters and the public to contact Ministers Lee Waters of the Welsh Government, and Michael Gove of the UK Government. By the end of December, over 4000 emails had been sent to both Ministers, asking them to agree which government has the power to stop the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion - and to step in to stop the licence.

Both Minister failed to respond to any of the 4000 emails, ignoring the thousands of concerns expressed to them.

Open letter to Welsh & UK Governments

After both Ministers Lee Waters and Michael Gove failed to respond to any of the 4000 emails, and ignore the thousands of concerns expressed to them, Coal Action Network followed with an open letter to them. This letter summarised the main concerns that our supporters and the public wrote to them with, and asked for a response to these concerns.

Again, both Ministers failed to respond and we were getting increasingly concerned their inaction and refusal to communicate would let this licence application slip through and commit us all to continued coal mining at Aberpergwm until 2039.

42m more tonnes of coal gets licenced

On  25th January 2022, the Coal Authority awarded Aberpergwm its coal mine expansion licence, quietly updating its listing of coal mining applications and licences. In response to an email from Coal Action Network, the Coal Authority claimed it could not refuse the licence on any grounds apart from a narrow criteria set by the 1994 Coal Industry Act. If an applicant meets this criteria, the Coal Authority claims it must grant it the licence.

Coal Action Network contacted Richard Buxton Solicitors to find out if there is still any hope of stopping this coal mine, and whether the Welsh Government can still intervene - as the UK Government claims it can.

CAN visits Aberpergwm & Glynneath town

In February 2022, CAN staff visited the site of the Aberpergwm coal mine and met with local people in Glynneath to deepen our understanding of local views and awareness of the looming coal mine expansion. We learned that people living in towns near to the coal mine felt reliant on the coal mine because it brought some business into an area struggling economically and with underfunded services such as public transport links between nearby towns. We have heard similar stories of other towns, forced by a lack of Government investment, to choose between a coal mine with HGV traffic, noise, and disruption, or further job losses and closures.

We also found only low levels of awareness that the coal mine was recently licenced for a massive expansion, indicating that coal mine operator, EnergyBuild Mining Ltd, had not communicated this with local people.

Welsh groups take action

Coal Action Network reached out to Wales-based environmental groups and engaged them on the issue of the impending Aberpergwm coal mine expansion licence. After speaking of 100 million tonnes of CO2 and up to 1.17 million tonnes of methane expected to be generated from this expansion, they took action.

Actions have included blockading the site office at the coal mine location on 11th March, and a theatrical noise demonstration outside the Senedd on 17th March 2022 which was attended by Wales Green Party leader Anthony Slaughter and Liberal Democrat party leader, Jane Dodds, who both delivered speeches on the need to prevent this coal mine expansion.

Legal challenge is launched

Richard Buxton Solicitors and Barrister Estelle Dehon (QC) represented Coal Action Network, believing there to be a case to argue:

  1. The Welsh Government can apply the Wales Act 2017 to the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion licence, meaning the licence won't be valid unless the Welsh Government formally approves it
  2. The Coal Authority can consider factors beyond the narrow criteria it claims it's limited to when deciding a licence application.

After 'pre-action letters' to the Welsh Government and UK Coal Authority, Coal Action Network's legal team submitted an application in early April for a judicial review on these grounds.

Crowdfunder for £65,000 legal and court fees

Coal Action Network is a small grassroots organisation, so we need to fundraise £65,000 to challenge the Welsh Government and Coal Authority in a judicial review. These funds are needed to pay for our legal costs, potentially a portion of the other side's if we lose, as well as court fees.

But, if we win, we would set a legal precedent that could make it significantly harder for future coal mining across the UK, potentially laying a 475 year industry to rest and helping to safeguard future generations.

Please share and donate to our CrowdJustice crowd funder.

Application for a full Judicial Review approved

Our legal team has been informed that our legal challenge will be heard by a senior High Court judge in the coming months. Permission to proceed to a full Judicial Review in the High Court indicates we have a solid case and puts us an important step closer to reversing January's decision to licence a 42 million tonne expansion of the Aberpergwm coal mine. Our crack legal team, Richard Buxton Solicitors and Barrister Estelle Dehon QC, will challenge the parts that The UK Coal Authority and the Welsh Government played in this disastrous licence slipping through.

Published: 25.04.2022

Key facts: Aberpergwm coal mine expansion

We'll keep this post up-to-date with the key facts so keep checking back!

Key facts


Planning permission to mine coal until 2039 (this is often subsequently extended).

Tonnage:

42 million tonnes during the life of the extension + 30 million tonnes of "middling" coal to be dumped or put back into the coal mine.

Estimated CO2 and methane emissions:

100 million tonnes of CO2 and up to 1.17 million tonnes of methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2.

Coal operator (mining company):

Energybuild Ltd/Energybuild Mining Ltd.

Type:

Anthracite

Claimed uses:

2022: According to Energybuild Ltd, 60% of the coal goes to steelworks, 20% domestic heating (80% overall)
2023: Energybuild Ltd thinks this could drop to an overall 70% of the coal going to steelworks and domestic heating.

The planning application said power stations and steel works. With Aberthaw power station closed, Energybuild now talks of Pulverised injection for steelmaking, household heating, cement, and water filtration.

County Council Local Planning Authority:

Neath Port Talbot

Address:

Glynneath, Neath, SA11 5AJ

Physical size:

Because this is an underground mine, much of the excavation would be invisible but very real, as communities victim to flooding mine shafts have experienced. The underground tunnelling has permission to extend to 2.3km squared, taking you roughly half an hour to walk from one side of the tunnels to the other. And this doesn’t factor in the vertical shafts, sending offshoots that go beneath the River Dulais.

Published: 22/04/2022

Aberpergwm: Live locally? Get informed & active

Energybuild hasn't kept local people in the loop...

... So we thought we would!

Volunteers from Neath Port Talbot Friends of the Earth have given out flyers in Glynneath to start conversations and direct people towards this information about the mine expansion, and about how you can take action as people living near Aberpergwm.

References

1Planning Application P2014/0729 Mining Zones Map (Neath Port Talbot Council planning portal)

[2]Coal Authority production statistics: 25666 (2019) 16957 (2020) 19690 (2021) tonnes was produced. Average 20,771 tonnes of coal.

[3]Planning Permission document P2014/0729 (14)

[4]Planning Permission document P2014/0729 (22)

[5]Planning Permission document P2014/0729 (7)

[7] Wales carbon budgets/targets March 2021: https://gov.wales/climate-change-targets-and-carbon-budgets

[8] Core samples show 88.3% fixed carbon content https://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/115771/1/Zagorscak%20and%20Thomas%20(2018).pdf (126)

[9] In excess of 95% fixed carbon content: https://mineralmilling.com/anthracite-filter-media/

[10] Coal in Steel : Problems & Solutions (Coal Action Network)

[11] Wales carbon budgets/targets March 2021: https://gov.wales/climate-change-targets-and-carbon-budgets

[12]Channel 4 News report, research provided by Global Energy Monitor https://www.channel4.com/news/are-cop26-promises-on-coal-being-broken (04.02.22)

[13] https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050

[14] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03821-8

 

CAN instructs Barristers to take Welsh Government and the Coal Authority to task over Aberpergwm colliery extension.

Update

Check out what else we're doing now to stop the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion

See our first letter and our second letter 'before action' from lawyers Richard Buxton Solicitors challenging the decisions made around the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion licence.


 

Under direction by grassroots campaign organisation, Coal Action Network, Barrister Estelle Dehon has sent a letter-before-action to the Welsh Government and the Coal Authority on the grounds that:

  1. Welsh Ministers can apply the Wales Act 2017 to the Aberpergwm coal mine extension licence - requiring approval from Welsh Ministers before the licence becomes valid for coal mining within Wales.
  2. Coal Authority misinterprets its own powers. It can consider wider factors which could include climate change and can still withdraw the licence for the Aberpergwm colliery extension prior to it being ‘granted’ (it is currently only ‘offered’).

Our Barrister thinks they got it wrong.

Our Barrister’s pre-action letter convincingly puts the power to stop the Aberpergwm colliery extension licence firmly in the hands of Welsh Government Ministers. Now it is up to those Ministers to take their rhetoric and put it into swift, decisive action to stop this climate calamity whilst there is still the opportunity to do so. Our pre-action letter also identifies why The Coal Authority, hosted by BEIS of the UK Government, isn’t bound by the narrow set of criteria it claims to be, and could, for instance, site climate change as a reason to withdraw this licence and reject future coal mining licence applications, becoming an ally to our climate commitments rather than an undermining force.

We tried knocking on their doors before putting a letter through their letterboxes…

Coal Action Network tried to avoid legal action, with supporters sending over 4000 emails to Lee Waters of the Welsh Government and Michael Gove of the UK Government, urging them to come to work together and arrive at a common understanding as to which could intervene on the pending licence to extend the Aberpergwm colliery—and then take that action to stop the licence before it’s granted. However, along with our open letter, Ministers ignored thousands of concerned members of the public. As Ministers refuse to respond to the public’s and civil society’s concerns, we must resort to this legal action.

We hope they see sense.

We hope that the Welsh Government and The Coal Authority act swiftly to stop this coal mine, in accordance with the legal grounds identified within the pre-action letter. This may avoid the need for a judicial review. But we cannot allow it to go unchallenged, that every institution and individual involved has shrugged off the responsibility for committing us to the extraction of 70 million tonnes of coal, selling 40 million tonnes of coal, and the release of 1.17 million tonnes of methane and c.100 million tonnes of CO2. This is a terrible climate injustice, it must be stopped, and those responsible must be held to account. The time to draw a line in the sand is now. No new coal mining for any purpose. And the IEA agrees with us (p103).

It's not just about the Aberpergwm colliery extension. This needs to end.

If we must resort to a judicial review to prevent this coal mine, we intend to crowd-fund it and we hope you’ll share it widely. As well as stopping this coal mine extension, a successful legal challenge will dissuade the other coal companies which have conditional licences from the Coal Authority to attempt new coal mines. We would significantly raise the bar against new coal mines.

Published: 09/02/22

Licenced: the Aberpergwm coal mine extension

Update

Check out what we're doing now to stop the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion.

On 25th January 2022...

...Whilst the Welsh and UK Governments continued to argue over which could stop it, The Coal Authority approved the full licence for an underground coal mine extension to Energybuild Ltd. The company can now mine a further 40 MILLION TONNES of coal until 2039, emitting an est. 100 MILLION TONNES of CO2 and up to 1.17 MILLION TONNES of methane emissions.

This is exactly what we warned would happen, but it’s not over yet.

We, at Coal Action Network, are taking action against this climate trashing project and want you to join in. This is a rapidly evolving issue, and we will post specific actions you can get involved with here on our website, as well as our social media platforms. Watch this space.

Campaign plans

We will:

  • Take legal advice on how to challenge legality of this coal mine – with a view to prevent potential coal mines in the future, particularly as mining companies will be watching this case closely, as several other coal companies are holding conditional licences already.
  • Consider mass participation digital and creative actions.
  • Counter the growing greenwash emanating from Energybuild Ltd.
  • Be direct and targeted in exposing backtracking from politicians on their positions against coal mining.
  • Investigate concerns raised that there may be no guarantees Energybuild Ltd, or a new company that buys the mine, will restore the area after mining ceases.

Why must we stop this coal mine?

  1. The UK is already off-course to meeting its Paris Agreement climate commitments. Waving through 100 million tonnes of CO2 endangers not just the UK’s decarbonisation progress, but also the European countries that it will be exported to.
  2. Currently, around half of the coal mined in Aberpergwm is sold to TATA’s Port Talbot Steelworks—the 2nd biggest single-site source of CO2 in the UK, and that’s largely down to the coal used to make the steel. The UK Government set a target for the UK steel industry to decarbonise by 2035, to have any hope of meeting its climate commitments… that’s 4 years before this coal mine is due to close. The problem is, if Energybuild Ltd would make coal more widely and cheaply available, so steel companies will keep using it rather than investing in the infrastructure to use alternatives to coal. This would create a delay to the decarbonisation of the steel industry that we cannot afford.
  3. Other mining companies will be watching this closely; if the Aberpergwm coal mine extension goes ahead, it could spark a disastrous new wave of coal mining applications.
  4. This is the first test of the Welsh Government’s tough stance on coal in Wales. If the Welsh Government are seen to support this coal mine, it will undermine the hard-won progress to make coal mining untenable at the highest political level within Wales.

Published: 03/02/2022 updated 08/02/2022

An open letter to stop the Aberpergwm coal extension

Update

The Coal Authority has issued the Aberpergwm coal mine with a licence to mine an extra 42 million tonnes of coal, ignoring the est.100 million tonnes of CO2 this will generate and jeopardise the UK's and Wales' ability to meet their climate commitments. Check out what we're doing now to stop the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion.

Dear Ministers Lee Waters and Michael Gove,

Combined, both of you have received nearly 4000 emails from people who are dismayed by the news that the deep coal mine operated by EnergyBuild Ltd in Aberpergwm may imminently have the licence to extend it deconditionalised by The Coal Authority regulator. The people we have spoken with are shocked that the UK is embarking on a new commitment to mine up to 40 million tonnes of coal until 2039, emitting around 100 million tonnes of CO2—as well as methane—into our atmosphere. Common questions we heard included “how can this happen just after COP26?”, “shouldn’t this decision be made by Wales?”, and “why don’t these Ministers seem to know who can stop this?”.

Will you answer their questions and respond to their concerns?

Our recommendations:

In the short term, it is critical that Ministers from both the Welsh and UK Governments work together to overcome the political impasse reported by the BBC and The Guardian, and block this coal mine. There are several routes to achieve this. Inaction on this coal mine extension would have unacceptable consequences for the UK’s climate change emissions, and international leadership on phasing down coal.

For the longer term, the UK Government must end the recurring embarrassment of coal mines progressing through a planning system that does not support the its climate commitments. Applications for new coal mines in West Cumbria and near Druridge Bay, as well as a coal mine extension at Nant Helen in Wales, all required Ministers to step in the last-minute. This pattern shows that the planning process needs updating.

We recommend that Minister Michael Gove therefore issues a policy statement that rules out planning permission for all new and extended coal mining across the UK. This be irrespective of the type of coal or proposed end use. The policy statement would send a clear signal domestically and internationally that the UK is serious about leading the global phase-down of coal, and accelerating the decarbonisation of energy and steel production, the latter of which currently drives 11% of climate change emissions.

An invitation to consign coal to history

We invite Minsters from the Welsh and UK Governments to reach out to Coal Action Network and consign new coal mining and extensions to history. Coal Action Network has operated as a grassroots group since 2008 to support local communities across England, Scotland, and Wales to oppose nearby coal mining and associated impacts. As one local community member, after successfully opposing a nearby opencast coal proposal in December 2020, said:

“Coal is our heritage, but it cannot be a part of our future”

Yours sincerely,

Supporters, and the team at Coal Action Network

Published 29.12.2021

Committing to 100 million tonnes of CO2 over 18 years before the dust settles on COP26 just 280 miles away

Update

The Coal Authority has issued the Aberpergwm coal mine with a licence to mine an extra 42 million tonnes of coal, ignoring the est.100 million tonnes of CO2 this will generate and jeopardise the UK's and Wales' ability to meet their climate commitments. Check out what we're doing now to stop the Aberpergwm coal mine expansion.

The quick read:

Currently, the Welsh Government and the UK’s Government Ministry of BEIS are arguing over which has the legal power to cancel the impending licence for a coal mine extension in Aberpergwm, south Wales. EnergyBuild Ltd, the coal operator, is on the brink of getting a licence to extend an existing deep coal mine to extract a further 40 million tonnes of coal, emitting around 100 million tonnes of CO2 and methane, until 2039. The licence could be obtained any day, and work begin shortly thereafter (we’ve illustrated the main legal steps a coal mine takes between application and diggers on the land). This is a very live issue.

Demand Ministers block this coal mine extension now.

Squabbling ministers

The governments of Wales and the UK both believe that the other has the power to stop the coal mine extension from going ahead. In the meantime, and in the shadow of the recent COP26 in Glasgow, a licence to extract a further 40 million tonnes of coal could slip through any day. The estimated 100 million tonnes of CO2 and methane this would emit over the next 18 years, would discredit the much-boasted 2050 Net-Zero commitment, Boris Johnson’s recent statement in the press against new coal, and the Welsh Ministerial statement against coal in March 2021. The signal this may send to other world leaders, that they can make commitments then ignore them, is hard to quantify but may be even more significant. Ministers Lee Waters of the Welsh Government, and Michael Gove of the UK Government, need to come together to stop this coal mine and make good on their respective governments' climate commitments.

Local and global-local consequences

The distance between the coal mine and the nearest residence in Aberpergwm is just 330 metres. Although this is a deep coal mine rather than opencast, this proximity can still be associated with impacts from coal dust from coal stockpiles stored above ground, noise, HGV movements, and light pollution. Future impacts of the underground working are also uncertain with increasingly extreme weather events associated with climate change.

For people living in many parts of the Global South, on flood planes, or near sea-level, climate change is not an abstract threat for future generations – it's impacts are life and death, and are experienced now and locally to them. The line between who we think of as ‘local communities’ is beginning to blur as the impacts are increasingly experienced beyond the site of operations. The economic and health impacts of the coal mine extension going ahead or closing will be immediate, direct, and tangible on the residents in Aberpergwm. The impacts of the CO2 and methane from this coal mine will be delayed, indirect, and, although modelling tools attempt to quantify it, fairly intangible on communities threatened now by climate change. However, the consequences are profound for both groups, and must be considered.

Recycling the greenwash doesn’t make it more true

Cutting through the greenwash, a significant portion of the coal will be burned at steelworks releasing huge amounts of CO2 and other pollutants, jeopardising the rapid decarbonisation required of the global steel industry and other industries which are reliant on coal.

Energybuild Ltd

A visit to Companies House online will reveal a complicated operating structure of many small companies with similar names and shared registered addresses associated with Energybuild Ltd, the coal operator in Aberpergwm. The company itself has negligible assets, so the possibility of recovering funds if the company suddenly folded with liabilities is limited. The situation with its holding company, Energybuild Resources Ltd is also concerning, with net liabilities of £2.7 million and assets valued at £950 thousand as of the end of 2019 – meaning that if the company were to fold, around 65% of those liabilities may not be fulfilled, including restoration works.

Heritage in coal

Wales played a major role in mining the coal that powered the UK through an industrial revolution. Coal is a central part of a proud heritage in many communities throughout Wales, and for a few remaining areas, coal mining is still the major industry.

The closure of many coal mines under the Thatcher Government put thousands out of work, generating bitterness and deprivation that continues to this day. Much of this hardship could have been avoided if coal mining had been phased out and replaced by reinvesting some of the wealth that mining generated back into the communities that toiled to extract it.

Coal or unemployment?

Local shops and pubs, in particular, in recent press coverage have come out in support of a licence for the coal mine extension, highlighting their reliance on the custom of coal miners that work there. But without the support for creating alternative jobs that’s been absent so far, these businesses will be in the same position when the coal mine does eventually close.

Will the UK Government learn from its past mistakes in coal, and make good on its promise to ‘level up’ the UK with an approach that includes investment in infrastructure, retraining in desirable and viable jobs, and financial support for small and medium sized enterprises, particularly cooperative and social-interest companies that build and reinvest in their communities? Only when the UK and Welsh governments step up will communities in Aberpergwm have a genuine choice on whether to tolerate a coal mine nearby for another 18 years.

Coal is our collective heritage, but it cannot be our future

The Aberpergwm extension may represent the final gasps of an industry we owe much to but must move beyond. As one tenacious community member fighting a coal mine near Newcastle put it, "coal is our collective heritage, but it cannot be our future".

 

Following almost 4000 emails, we've followed up with an open letter to Ministers Lee Waters and Michael Gove.