"The authorities are missing in action," said one campaigner. "If they won't step in to stop illegal, planet-wrecking coal mining, we will."
"We have today done what the Welsh government, the U.K. government, and the local council have failed to do—shut down the operations of the U.K.'s largest coal mine which has been operating without a license since September last year," Extinction Rebellion (XR) activist Marcus Bailie of Caerphilly said in a statement.
The 68-year-old is among Extinction Rebellion's Cymru/Wales and U.K. members who locked themselves to the group's pink boat, which was used to blockade the access road between the Ffos-y-Fran mine and its depot early Wednesday. Because of the new "Public Order Act," the activists face the threat of up to 51 weeks in jail.
"We aim to stop operations until at least the weekend and we are calling for as many people as possible to come down to support us and make this happen."
"We aim to stop operations until at least the weekend and we are calling for as many people as possible to come down to support us and make this happen," Bailie explained. "It would be crazy if the mine owner or the government instructed the police to move against us just so the mine owners can continue what is an illegal operation."
While sitting on top of the boat, Liz Pendleton of XR United Kingdom declared: "The authorities are missing in action. If they won't step in to stop illegal, planet-wrecking coal mining, we will."
Permission for coal mining at Ffos-y-Fran was initially granted in 2005. Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd., the company behind the mine, hoped to extend operations until March 2024 and push its promised restoration of the site to June 2026.
A local council in April rejected the proposed extension and in May issued a notice to end coal extraction at the mine. That notice took effect last week, giving Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd. 28 days to stop digging, but the company is now appealing.
As the BBCreported last week:
The Welsh government said on Wednesday morning it understood the company was appealing.
A spokesman added that it could not comment further as it may "jeopardize any future decision Welsh ministers may have to make on the matter."
Mining firm Merthyr (South Wales) Ltd confirmed an appeal had "been lodged with the Welsh ministers" and said it could not comment further while the appeal process was ongoing.
"We are extremely disappointed, and frustrated, to hear that the mining company has appealed the enforcement action," Chris Austin, who lives near the mine and has campaigned against it as part of the United Valleys Action Group, told the BBC. "If accepted, the appeal could take 12 months or more to resolve, so we again urge that a 'stop order' be put in place whilst this appeal is determined."
Mel Price, who also lives near the site and joined XR's action, said Wednesday that "the mine owners have drawn millions in dividends while local residents have to tolerate all the noise and pollution caused by an illegal mine. The carbon emissions continue and the scar on the landscape gets bigger."
"The government and the legal system are prepared to lock up peaceful protesters for trying to stop fossil fuel companies and investors from profiting from the destruction of our planet, yet they are not prepared to stop illegal mining, so we are making a stand," Price continued. "If the police decide to arrest us, they will be acting without probable cause and against their own interests as they are the ones who will have to rescue people from the floods and the fires—is this what we really want?"
"The law of aggravated trespass is quite clear in that it must be obstruction of a lawful activity and it is quite clear that this mine is operating illegally," Price added. "So, the decision will have to be made by the authorities about, 'Who are the criminals here?'"
In addition to XR's boat blockade, a group called No More Coal is organizing a peaceful march on the mine for Saturday morning.
Given that the mining company has kept operating for months and "no one seems able to stop them," Bailie said, "we've had to take matters into our own hands by coming here to demand they stop extracting and shipping coal immediately and for good."
"We encourage hundreds, even thousands, of people to come from all over the country to march on Ffos-y-Fran to tell them that we, the people, say no more," the activist added, pointing to Saturday's event.
The coal protest came after The Guardianreported Tuesday that the Conservative U.K. government plans to drop its £11.6 billion ($14.75 billion) international climate pledge. The newspaper noted Wednesday that "although the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) said such claims were 'false,' a leaked briefing showed that ministers were being prepared for the target not being met because of government cuts to aid funding, underspending, and new commitments such as aid for Ukraine."
The reporting outraged climate campaigners, including branches of Extinction Rebellion. XR Islington charged that "this is murderous madness" while the Havering group tweeted that "'saving' money is a lie and a false economy when it comes to climate action. The cost is not just in money but in human suffering. Inaction will cost us and the rest of the world far more in the long run."