Monday, August 3, 2009

Scottish climate activists to target coal industry

Protesters accuse Salmond's Scottish National party government of hypocrisy for supporting new open-cast mines and coal-fired power station

Climate activists who today occupied a new open-cast coal mine in south-west Scotland are planning to target power stations, energy companies and mines across the country, in protest against the energy policies of the first minister, Alex Salmond.

The protesters accuse Salmond's Scottish National party government – which claims Scotland has the world's toughest climate change policies – of hypocrisy for supporting new open-cast mines and a new coal-fired power station planned for Hunterston in Ayrshire.

Several hundred protesters are expected to converge on a "climate camp" at Mainshill near the village of Douglas in South Lanarkshire, an area already dominated by large open-cast mines, despite a court order prohibiting their occupation.

Activists at the Mainshill solidarity camp – which was officially opened today – have erected more than a dozen "tree houses" and platforms, dug tunnels and built teepees in a large conifer forest, which is due to be cleared for the new mine.

Environment activists have been protesting at the site since it was approved in June and have already had confrontations with police and the landowner, the Earl of Home, son of the Conservative prime minister Alec Douglas-Home.

But today there was no sign of any police or security guards. Instead, the protesters were building compost toilets, showers, temporary offices and barricades, and preparing for the police to attempt an eviction.

Activists have also identified Longannet power station, further mines, Scottish Coal and Scottish Power's headquarters and coal terminals on the Clyde and Firth of Forth for future protests.

Scottish Coal, now the UK's largest open-cast coal mine operator, was given permission to extract 1.7m tonnes of coal at Mainshill over the next three and a half years. About 700 villagers in nearby Douglas and Glespin objected to the proposal, but their complaints were rejected by South Lanarkshire council.

Scottish Coal already operates three other mines in the immediate area, and has recently won permission to extend many of them.

At Glentaggart, the company is allowed to mine 200,000 tonnes a year: the site has one of the Europe's longest conveyor belts. At 6.5km long, Scottish Coal says it reduced lorry traffic by 30,000 journeys a year.

At a site known as Poniel/Long Plantation, it can mine 570,000 tonnes ,

and 4m tonnes from Broken Cross open-cast mine, several miles to the north-east.

The protesters say these mines undermine the Scottish government's targets to cut CO2 emissions by 42% by 2020 – a legally binding target that ministers claim is the strictest of any industrialised nation.

Scotland already has 32% of its domestic electricity needs met by wind power, and claims it will surpass 50% by 2020. Ministers have also matched the UK government's goal of cutting emissions by 80% by 2050.

However, Salmond, Scotland's first minister, also supports plans for a new coal-fired power station near to Hunterston nuclear power station and has supported reopening Longannet coal mine in Fife.

He insists that carbon capture and storage – where CO2 emissions from power stations are pumped under the North Sea – will absorb the extra greenhouse gas emissions. He has described coal as "a fuel of the future."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "We are working to develop clean coal and carbon capture technology and, alongside a massive increase in renewables, coal still has a place as part of a balanced energy policy for Scotland."

Rob Banks, a spokesman for Mainshill climate camp, said carbon capture is still an unproven, experimental technology and could take up to a decade to be installed in power stations. It could also be used to help extract North Sea oil and gas – negating its use in reducing CO2 emissions from power stations.

"We don't have any faith at all that that 42% climate change target will be maintained," he said. "Road expansion is continuing unabated, they're extending various airports and expanding open-cast mines. That doesn't indicate they're taking this seriously."

Many locals supported the protesters, said Harry Thompson, who chairs Douglas community council, and wanted the open-cast mines to be dramatically scaled back. Salmond's stance on open-cast mining "makes a complete mockery" of his climate policies and Scottish planning law.

"We realise the coal is there and we realise they're going to take it, but we want it done one at a time, in a manner that would be safer and healthier for the community," he said.

A Scottish Coal spokesman said coal was a significant resource, and essential for the UK's energy supplies. The firm also supported carbon capture and storage. "Scottish Coal remains committed to maximising the use of indigenous coal, to support Scottish jobs and the Scottish economy, and reduce the need to import coal from foreign sources, which carried greater environmental costs," he said.

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