UK Coal says 15,000 mining jobs are at risk

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The Independent Online

Britain's coal industry faces ruin with the loss of 15,000 jobs, the Government will be told tomorrow.

The chief executive of UK Coal, Gordon McPhie, is set to meet with energy minister Stephen Timms tomorrow over proposals to cut sulphur dioxide emissions by 50 per cent in the UK. The Government must implement the restrictions by 2008 to comply with a Brussels directive. It proposes to set a total limit for sulphur emissions and then allow power stations to trade their share. But coal producers say this would force the stations to buy foreign coal, which contains less sulphur.

UK Coal advocates an altern- ative method, where power stations fit equipment that reduces sulphur emissions. But some generators could close down coal-fired stations rather than face that expense.

The Government's view is that the trading system will be cheaper, yet it has not taken into account the costs of mine closures and the loss of jobs, says UK Coal, the country's largest coal producer.

On Wednesday, a group of MPs with coalmines in their constituencies met Tony Blair to press him on the potential plight of the miners. "I think he was sympathetic to our call," said Bill O'Brien, MP for Normanton in Yorkshire.

The Government's consultation finishes at the end of the month. But it must tell the EC how it will implement the Large Combustion Plant Directive by November. "We have proposed the [national trading system] version because we believe it represents the best overall approach in terms of environment impact and cost benefit considerations," said a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which is working with Mr Timms on the proposals. "That is only the preliminary view. We recognise that the issues are finely balanced. We will take the final view after the consultation."

Earlier this month, UK Coal, which employs 10,000 staff, reported reduced losses in its first-half results, helped by the sale of property and by flexible working practices.

UK Coal declined to confirm the meeting with Mr Timms. It is urging its staff to write to Defra and their local MPs on the issue, telling them this will "help safeguard your job and the community in which you live".

The Government has promised £60m in subsidy for the industry. UK Coal is awaiting a response from the Department of Trade and Industry on whether it can access the funds to develop new coal reserves in the UK. The subsidy would safeguard 4,000 jobs, the company said.