Dirty coal just got dirtier: Corruption taints the coal sector

By Trusha Reddy, international coal network Coordinator: WoMin African Alliance

Our addiction to the dirty power of coal is poisoning our lungs as it poisons our lands, and sends our planet hurtling towards climate catastrophe. But the coal sector is also filled with dirty deals: Examples abound of intimidation, deceit, fraud, favoritism, violence, bribery and financial shadiness tied to coal production and power generation in countries on every continent except Antarctica. As the world lurches towards a clean energy transition, we are becoming acutely aware of the powerful vested interests in the coal and utility industries and how their corrupting influence is keeping us beholden to our dirty past. With the launching of CorruptionInCoal, a new website we show how widespread this corruption has become, and we hope that through increased exposure of coal-related dirty deeds, we can finally put an end to the age of coal.

For most, the instances of corruption plaguing the coal sector are viewed through the lens of local impacts. The global scope of the problem is not apparent when the focus is your own backyard. In a village on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, one of the many instances of corruption featured on the new website, we show how a foreign coal plant operator has been misleading villagers for months with promises of profit-sharing and pushing non-English speakers to sign forms in English saying they support the plant. There are similar instances of local corruption playing out across the world, and when we connect the dots between them, we start to build a more complete picture of a critical global problem.

CorruptionInCoal summarizes numerous examples of corrupt and shady dealing connected to the coal and electricity industries around the world – threats, harassment and scare tactics, cheating and cover-ups, rigged bidding, profit skimming, over-billing, tax evasion, golden parachutes, influence-peddling … and the list goes on. There is no way to track them all, but CorruptionInCoal is striving to unearth as many allegations and incidents as possible.

So far, we have documented corruption in 14 countries, and the list is growing. In South Africa, for example, the government is supporting new coal mining and three new coal-fired power plants in the face of major economic, water use and pollution concerns. Top government leaders in South Africa are financially tied to the coal industry. In Brazil, there was a scheme by company Odebrecht to vastly overcharge for construction of two new coal-burning power plants. A coal terminal scandal in the Dominican Republic exploited public funds for private gains. There are stories like the on every continent except Antarctica, including cases in the United States, India and China, and you can find them on CorruptionInCoal.

The aim of CorruptionInCoal is not to provide an exhausting clearinghouse of documentation. Rather, the site was established to connect the dots and spur the kind of inquiry that is needed to expose and end corruption. The end goal, obviously, is greater awareness, so that wherever corruption rears its head, the people and institutions hurt by it are better informed and prepared to address the wrongdoing.

We’re certain, though, that we’ve only scratched the surface and that there are many more stories out there that need to be told. … Visit the site and tell us yours.