Labour backs new Svalbard coal mine

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Norway’s Labour Party was attracting more criticism from environmental organizations on Tuesday, after its parliamentary group decided to support the opening of a new coal mine on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The environmentalists call it another example of hypocrisy and double standards.

Store Norske's CEO Bjørn Arnestad will oversee operations in the new coal mine. PHOTO: PHOTO: Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS

The move, reports newspaper VG, has spurred dissent within Labour and comes as Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg continues to champion carbon emission cuts to help halt climate change. On Svalbard, though, Stoltenberg’s party backs both the coal mining operation and a coal-fired power plant that’s been allowed to avoid punitive fees on its emissions.

Stoltenberg is thus allowing “the most polluting source of energy we have to avoid restrictions,” claimed Lars Haltbrekken, who heads Norway’s chapter of the environmental organization Friends of the Earth. He says the prime minister’s standards abroad are different from those at home.

“He’s in favour of fees on coal but not if they hurt Norwegian coal operations on Svalbard,” Haltbrekken told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). He pointed out other inconsistencies in the Labour-led government’s policies,  regarding how Norwegian companies behave at home and how they behave abroad.

Kjetil Lund, Stoltenberg’s closest adviser on climate issues, disagreed with Haltbrekken’s assessments of government policy. He said that even though Svalbard is exempt from the emissions quota system and carbon fees, its emissions are part of Norway’s obligations under the Kyoto agreement. “That means that when emissions rise on Svalbard, they have to be offset by reduced emissions on the mainland, or as a part of Norway’s climate quota obligations,” Lund said.

Labour MP Ingrid Heggø told VG, meanwhile, that Svalbard’s economy has “three legs to stand on: coal, tourism and research.” Labour is traditionally most concerned with preserving jobs, and around 350 persons currently work in the mining operation run by Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS on Svalbard.

The new mine at Lunckefjell is tied to the Svea operation, about 60 kilometers south of the city of Longyearbyen. It will be operated by Store Norske and is to replace production from the Svea Nord mine, which is expected to run empty in 2013.

Store Norske, which bills itself as “the northernmost mining company in the world,” applied for government approval to open the mine last fall and calls it “a “natural continuation” of the current mining operations at Svea Nord. The new mine is believed to contain around 8.2 million tons of coal suitable for energy production and metallurgical purposes.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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