July 27, 2017
Issue 192  |  View Past Issues
CoalWire

Editor's Note

The retreat of coal continues as the industry’s public standing sinks ever lower. The latest data reveals coal power generation in the UK has plummeted to just 2 per cent in the first half of 2017. In Australia project lending for coal mines by the big four banks has fallen dramatically since 2015. In South Korea, a temporary shut-down of eight old plants has cut fine particle pollution while in Russia legislators are proposing a ban on uncovered coal transport and storage. While there are many reasons for these changes, one is the increasing odium associated with coal power and the pollution it creates.

In India, a legal threat by Adani Power against an investigative journalist has sparked a furore. Meanwhile, Adani Australia has just launched a US$1.1 million advertising campaign in a forlorn bid to buff its tarnished image as it pushes for a billion dollar taxpayer subsidy for its Carmichael coal project.

Scandals dog the industry elsewhere too. In the US a former politician is facing bribery charges for accepting US$360,000 from Drummond Coal’s legal firm in return for opposing a clean-up of contaminated land. In South Africa, Eskom is embroiled in an ever-increasing number of scandals over support for companies associated with the controversial Gupta family.

Bob Burton

Features

Uproar over Adani’s muzzling of Indian investigative journalist

Uproar has erupted in media and academic circles after a legal threat by Adani Power against the publishers of Economic & Political Weekly triggered one of India’s leading investigative journalists to resign, writes Amrit Dhillon in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The collapse of coal power in the UK

In just five years coal generation has plummeted from providing over 40 per cent of the UK’s electricity to just two per cent in the first half of 2017, writes Adam Vaughan in the Guardian.

Top News

Ex-Alabama MP pleads not guilty to taking Drummond bribes: A former Democratic member of the Alabama House of Representatives, Oliver Robinson, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, bribery and other charges. In June Robinson entered into a plea agreement on the same day the charges were laid, admitting that his foundation had received US$360,000 in bribes from Drummond Coal via the company’s law firm. A Drummond subsidiary, ABC Coke, enlisted Robinson’s support in opposing Environmental Protection Agency proposals to clean up two parcels of polluted land, which could have imposed significant additional costs on Drummond. Robinson’s trial is set to start on September 5 when he may alter his not guilty response to the charges. (Al.com, AL.com)

Russian parliament considers ban on uncovered coal transport and storage: A bill before Russia’s Parliament proposes requiring all coal to be covered during transport and storage at coal depot and railways from January 2018 and shipping terminals after January 2019. The bill follows public alarm at coal dust pollution affecting residents living near coal ports at Nakhodka, Vanino and Sovietskaya Gavan in Russia’s Far East. The bill is being opposed by some companies, unions and parliamentarians. (Your Industry News)

Test case looms over toxicity of US coal ash pollution: The families of three dead workers and over 50 former workers are suing Jacobs Engineering claiming their illnesses were caused by exposure to coal ash when cleaning up after the December 2008 collapse of the waste dam at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Kingston plant. Jacobs, the contractor for the TVA, argues the plaintiffs’ deaths and illnesses were caused by their own actions and claim that, as the risks with coal ash “have been commonly known”, the company was under no obligation to warn or disclose the dangers to workers. The trial is set for 2018. (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Coal pollution falls after South Korea shuts some old plants: South Korea’s Ministry of Environment estimates coal dust emissions have fallen by 15.4 per cent compared to the two preceding years since four old coal plants in Chungcheong Province were temporarily closed at the start of June. The PM2.5 pollution, tested at 40 measuring points within 70 kilometres, fell from 26 micrograms per cubic meter to 22 micrograms per cubic meter. Another four plants in other provinces have also been temporarily closed. (Korea Herald)

Adani launches Australian advertising campaign: In a bid to assuage growing public concern over its proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland Adani Australia has launched a US$1.1 million national advertising campaign. In a four-page advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald, Adani did not use the word “coal” once. While the company obliquely referred to its wish to build a railway line it omitted any mention that it was from a proposed coal mine or that it is seeking a low-cost taxpayer loan for the project. (Junkee)

US power industry’s decades of denial: Major US power industry lobby groups were aware since 1968 that the burning of fossil fuels could cause global warming with “catastrophic effects”, according to a review of industry documents by the Energy and Policy Institute. By 1988 the Electric Power Research Institute acknowledged the growing view that climate change was “real” but member utilities kept building new coal plants and backing campaigns to downplay the risks and block regulatory action. (Reuters)

It is the right time to ride the global trend of nuclear and coal-free energy,”

said Paik Un-gyu, South Korea’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy.

News

Australia: Doctors decry hospital management for backing mine expansion.

Denmark: Disused coal port crane converted to conference room and apartment.

Germany: Abandoned mines in North Rhine-Westphalia are being redeveloped for new industries and housing.

Russia: First coking coal exported from Tigers Realm Coal’s Amaam project destined for China.

US: Trump tipped to appoint Murray Energy lobbyist as deputy Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

US: Company owned by West Virginia’s coal baron Governor cited over mine death.

US: Proposed Washington state coal terminal granted the first of 23 permits needed to proceed.

Vietnam: Four drowned and two missing after coal ship sinks after storm hit Nghe An province.

“Fossil fuels are dead … That’s a long-term view. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to be two or three years, but it’s going away in my view,”

said Hunter Harrison, the CEO of CSX, one of the largest US railway companies and a major coal carrier.

Companies + Markets

Major Australian banks retreat from coal lending: Lending by Australia’s four largest banks for coal projects has more than halved since they pledged to meet Paris Agreement targets, according to a new report by Market Forces. The banks – ANZ, Commonwealth, Westpac and NAB – loaned US$2.5 billion to coal projects in 2015 but this was down to US$78 million in the first half of 2017. However, lending over the same period to oil, gas and liquefied natural gas fossil fuel projects has been over three times the amount lent for renewables. (Sydney Morning Herald, Market Forces)

Vietnam coal cost benefit illusory warns report: A study by the Kerry and Fulbright University Vietnam and General Electric Vietnam argues the rapidly falling costs of renewables will soon make them cheaper than new coal generation if the cost of carbon and other pollution is taken into account. The study comes as Nguyen Dinh Tuan, the former rector of the HCMC University of Natural Resources and the Environment, has warned Chinese companies are pitching low-cost bids to win contracts for new coal plants then seeking to renegotiate prices. He also warned some Chinese bidders won contracts by offering commissions to government officials. (Vietnam.net, Vietnam.net)

Eskom provided guarantee for Guptas mine bid: Eskom’s Chief Financial Officer, Anoj Singh, has revealed the power utility provided Absa Bank, a subsidiary of Barclays Africa Group, with an US$92 million guarantee to enable Tegeta Resources – a company owned by the controversial Gupta family – to buy the Optimum mine from Glencore. According to an anonymous source, Eksom – which had effectively pushed Glencore to put the mine into administration – had rejected an earlier bid from Pembani which had the financial capacity to buy the mine without requiring Eskom support. (News24)

Eskom accounts delayed as scandals abound: Eskom was forced to delay the presentation of its annual financial report by a week due to concerns raised by the utility’s auditor triggered negotiations with the Development Bank of Southern Africa and Citibank. Eskom disclosed US$230 million in irregular expenditure which may have breached some debt covenants. Eskom and its senior management continue to be embroiled in numerous scandals including confirming the payment of US$37 million to a Gupta-controlled company despite previously having declared they hadn’t been paid “a cent.” (Business Day, TimesLive)

Rise of wind power threatens US lignite: While lignite – which accounts for about 9 per cent of US coal production – has declined only marginally since 2008, increasing wind generation is posing a growing threat to mine-mouth power plants consuming the emissions-intensive fuel. The bulk of US lignite is produced in North Dakota and Texas, both states with booming wind generation. In 2016 68.9 million tonnes of lignite was produced in the US. (SNL)

Study finds little monitoring of Indian coal licence conditions: A review has found 93 per cent of coal projects approved between June 2014 and May 2016 by India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) included conditions that required monitoring to be undertaken. However, the review found few of the self-compliance reports were uploaded to the websites of the MoEFCC’s regional offices. The Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy concluded there are “still serious deficiencies in the quality of appraisal and a neglect of monitoring duties by the MoEFCC.” (Livemint, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy)

Resources

At the Crossroads: Balancing the financial and social costs of coal transition in China, International Institute for Sustainable Development, July 2017. (Pdf) (A Chinese version of the report is here.)

This 47-page report reviews the coal transition in Shanxi – China’s biggest coal-producing province – and outlines how the process could be better managed to meet economic, social and environmental goals. The report also outlines case studies from the United Kingdom, the United States and Spain.

Utilities Knew: Documenting Electric Utilities’ Early Knowledge and Ongoing Deception on Climate Change From 1968-2017, Energy and Policy Institute, July 2017. (Pdf)

This 66-page report details the growing awareness after 1968 by the US power industry and its lobby groups of the reality of human-induced climate change and their later campaigns to block legal limits on greenhouse gas emissions.