Green challenge to RJB coal target

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COAL market projections by RJB Mining, the company chosen by the Government to take over almost all the collieries in England, would leave Britain in breach of its commitments on global warming, according to a leading environmentalist.

The size of the coal market will be a key factor in RJB's plans to raise pounds 1.1bn to fund its pounds 900m bid for the three English coalfields.

RJB bid hundreds of millions of pounds more than its rivals, including Coal Investments, the company run by Malcolm Edwards, former commercial director of British Coal.

Other industry sources have also said that RJB's vision of the size of the market is wildly optimistic.

Richard Budge, chief executive of RJB, has said that 45 million tonnes a year could be sold to the electricity generators at the end of the decade and beyond. Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, says the result could be 5 million tonnes extra carbon in the atmosphere.

The increase compares with the Government's target of a 10 million-tonne reduction by 2000. The reduction is needed to meet a commitment to stabilise carbon in the atmosphere at 1990 levels by the end of the dcade.

National Power and PowerGen now buy 30 million tonnes of coal from British Coal and a small amount from other producers. Electricity industry sources say this is unlikely to increase as natural gas becomes the choice for environmental and economic reasons.

One said: 'As the industry sees it there is no room for 45 million tonnes.

It is hard to see how anyone can get to that sort of rosy picture.'

Mr Warren said that if extra coal burning replaced mainly natural gas the increase in carbon would be about 5 million tonnes. If it displaced nuclear power it would be nearer 10 million.

The effect would be less if the extra coal sold by RJB replaced imports, but much of Britain's coal imports were coking coal, of which very little is produced in the UK. Mr Warren said that his calculations showed 5 million tonnes to be a fair estimate.

'The environmental implications of all this have been completely overlooked,' he said. 'I believe that it could drive a coach and horses through the Government's commitment.'

Mr Warren said that there were already doubts among environmental groups as to whether the Government could deliver on the 10 million-tonne reductions.

The issue could prove embarrassing at the United Nations international convention on climate change next spring in Berlin. The meeting will discuss even tougher carbon emission rules for the future.

Extra coal burning could also cause problems relating to emissions of sulphur dioxide from coal-fired power stations. National Power and PowerGen are negotiating with the Inspectorate of Pollution over how to meet new sulphur dioxide limits at the end of the decade.

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