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Friends of the Earth challenge successful planning permission for new coal mine

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Friends of the Earth has filed an application in the High Court to challenge the government’s decision to grant planning permission for a new coal mine in Cumbria.

The government’s decision followed a public inquiry in which an Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State heard expert evidence on a range of climate change matters, including the acceptability of carbon credits to offset the mine’s emissions, the international precedent that opening a new mine would set, and the impact of opening the mine on the global coal market.

Friends of the Earth challenges the decision on four grounds, including:

Ground 1: the Secretary of State erred in treating the mine as net zero for the purposes of the UK’s carbon budgets because he erroneously took into account the mine’s promise to purchase international carbon offset credits that have no effect on the UK’s carbon accounting.

Ground 2: the Secretary of State erred in his treatment of expert evidence that opening a new coal mine in the UK would harm the UK’s international reputation and lead to an increase in global carbon emissions.

Ground 3: the Secretary of State erred in his treatment of expert evidence relating to whether there would be “perfect substitution” of Cumbria coal for existing supplies in the global market (and therefore cause no net increase in emissions), and erred in his conclusion that, even if there was not perfect substitution, the mine would nonetheless have a “neutral” effect on climate change.

Ground 4: The Secretary of State’s failure to treat the carbon emissions from burning coal extracted from the mine as a significant effect of the development for the purposes of environmental impact assessment was unlawful. Whether or not  the Secretary of State’s approach was consistent with the judgment of the Court of Appeal in R (Finch) v Surrey County Council & Ors [2022] EWCA Civ 187, Friends of the Earth considers that case to be wrongly decided and reserves the right to argue this ground pending the Supreme Court’s determination of the appeal.

Toby Fisher, together with Paul Brown KC and Alex Shattock, acts for Friends of the Earth, instructed by Rowan Smith at Leigh Day solicitors. Niall Toru is the lead in-house lawyer at Friends of the Earth.

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