A politician known for promoting climate science denial teamed up with a controversial mining company to lobby the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to drop a proposed ban on the use of coal in England’s households, newly released documents show.
Sammy Wilson, a Northern Irish MP for East Antrim and Brexit spokesperson for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and Northumbrian mining company Banks Group, met DEFRA minister Therese Coffey in June 2019. The DUP signed a supply and confidence agreement to prop up Theresa May’s government in March 2019.
Minutes from the meeting, obtained under a Freedom of Investigation request, reveal that Wilson was critical of the plan to ban domestic coal burning, with coal companies suggesting the ban was mainly about “optics” rather than concerns over public health.
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According to the meeting readout, Wilson said he was “concerned that any legislation that is made in England will come over to NI eventually” and that “any ban would have been particularly challenging for poor rural people”.
Wilson is well-known for his promotion of climate science denial. He has called human-caused climate change a “gigantic con” and an “hysterical semi-religion”.
According to his own website, he believes “that climate change is not man-made and the myth of climate change is based on dodgy science not proven. He is not a fan of the Green Lobby who try to scaremonger people with their alarmist views.”
Wilson’s comments echo those of Conservative leader Boris Johnson, who has previously questioned mainstream climate science – though Johnson and the Conservative party are currently campaigning on a platform that promises strong climate action.
Wilson told DeSmog the proposed ban would have major implications for poorer people living in rural areas and businesses who act as retail outlets for coal, as well as potentially increasing emissions. The policy was “another example of policies which politicians who want to be seen to be pandering to the green lobby are so often guilty of,” he said.
“This is an ill thought out policy, one which will have unintended consequences especially for low income rural families and is nothing more than a piece of window dressing to please the green lobby which will have little impact at all on air quality in the places where it really matters.”
Also at the meeting with Coffey were controversial mining company the Banks Group and the association of UK coal importers (CoalImp), whose members include Drax and welsh based coal mining company Celtic Energy.
Banks Group is currently trying to gain government approval for a new opencast coal mine near Druridge Bay in Northumberland. The company is also the owner and operator of the UK’s newest coal mine in Pont Valley, County Durham, which was subject to strong resistance from the local community before opening in July 2018.
The notes reveal that both Banks Group and CoalImp were critical of the UK’s plans to ban the burning of household coal claiming, “this is more to do with the optics rather than making a substantive change to health.”
According to the meeting notes, DEFRA minister Therese Coffey disagreed with the comments and said “that WHO [World Health Organisation] is clear that house coal is a carcinogen”, and emphasised health was the main motivation for the proposed ban.
Banks complained further claiming, “WHO reports are based on developing countries, not the UK. This is significant because chimneys are poorer quality in developing countries.”
Banks group also confirmed at the meeting that the domestic coal market was a “premium” market that was important for its business.
The meeting ended with Coffey failing to confirm a specific timeline for approving legislation for the coal ban.
CoalImp pointed DeSmog towards its response to the proposal’s consultation and declined to make further comment. Banks Group did not respond to a request for comment.
Image: Foreign & Commonwealth Office/Flickr, CC-by-2.0