August 10, 2017
Issue 194  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

This week it was revealed scientists have discovered a new by-product of burning coal with potential but as yet unknown effects on human health. Meanwhile, there are plenty of real and well known adverse health effects from coal pollution.

In India a new study of coal pollution in Chattisgarh state recorded shocking levels of heavy metal pollution. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, pollution from Neyveli Lignite Corporation’s mines, ash dams and power stations is all pervasive.

Not all coal plant pollution is going unchecked. In the US a federal court judge has directed the Tennessee Valley Authority to move coal ash from leaking dams in a major water supply catchment to a new safer lined dam. Meanwhile, the European coal industry’s peak lobby group is on the back foot desperately trying to forestall the implementation of new pollution standards which the bulk of current coal plants don’t comply with. In South Africa, a successful legal challenge is forcing the government to reconsider a proposal for a new coal plant which would be far more polluting than Eskom’s most recent projects. In Australia, internal Whitehaven Coal documents revealed a steady stream of breaches of environmental licence conditions at the company’s four mines.

Bob Burton


Pollution hits health in India’s lignite fields

Coal dust from mines, power plants and ash dams belonging to the Indian government-owned NLC – formerly known as Neyveli Lignite Corporation – is causing major health problems for the villagers living around the company’s operations in Tamil Nadu, writes Sehr Raheja from the Healthy Energy Initiative in The News Minute.

The campaign for villages and forests in Germany's coal country

Germany’s huge coal mines are having a massive effect on surrounding communities and the environment, writes Elian Hadj-Hamdi in a photojournalism article in Deutsche Welle.


Court orders Tennessee coal ash dams clean up

A federal judge has directed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to excavate coal ash from leaking unlined pits at its Gallatin power plant in Tennessee and relocate it to a lined pit. The court found the TVA’s coal ash pits, which were built in a porous limestone area, had been polluting the Cumberland River since at least the 1970’s and were in breach of the Clean Water Act. The Cumberland River comprises a major drinking water source for much of the cities of Gallatin and Nashville. The TVA had argued capping the coal ash dams in place would end the pollution but the court rejected this stating it “would amount to nothing less than rolling the dice.” (US News & World Today, Southern Environmental Law Center)

Top News

New coal burning by-product found but health impact unknown: Scientists studying pollution from the 2014 Dan River coal ash dam disaster discovered titanium sub-oxides are produced as a by-product of burning coal which contains titanium dioxide. They concluded the titanium sub-oxide particles could be potentially toxic to both aquatic organisms and humans as they “seem to be biologically active” without being exposed to light. In particular, they flagged the potential toxic effects in human lungs. (Bloomberg, Nature Communications)

Study reveals extreme pollution from coal in Chhattisgarh: A study has revealed extreme pollution levels after testing soil, water and air samples from five locations near coal mines, power stations and coal ash dams near the town of Tamnar in Chhattisgarh state. The study found levels were far higher than Canadian standards which are used in India as “guideline values”. In one instance cadmium levels 169 times higher than the recommended level were detected. The study author has called for a moratorium on new mines and power stations and the comprehensive monitoring of current emissions. (Scroll)

EU coal lobby resisting new pollution rules: Euracoal, the European coal industry lobby group, has threatened to sue the European Commission over the new pollution standards requiring all coal plants to use “best available” pollution control technology by mid-2021. However, as no member states appealed against adopting the standards, a European Union source said they can’t be overturned. Environmental groups have vowed to initiate legal action against any plant in breach of the standards which are designed to cut EU pollution which is estimated to cause the deaths of up to 400,000 people a year. (Climate Home, European Commission)

Proposed South African plant pollution as bad as Eskom’s old units: The climate impact assessment for the proposed 630 megawatt (MW) Thabametsi plant reveals greenhouse gas emissions could be up to 60 per cent higher than Eskom’s newest plants and on a par or worse than the utility’s old plants. The impact assessment follows a North Gauteng High Court order for the Minister for Environmental Affairs to reconsider the environmental authorisation for the Thabametsi plant after considering a climate change impact assessment. The project, which was been selected as an independent power producer project, has been proposed by a consortium of Marubeni Corporation and KEPCO. (Center for Environmental Rights, CoalSwarm)

Whitehaven Coal documents reveal pollution cover-up: Whitehaven Coal filings to the New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority reveal conditions of the company's Environment Protection Licences were breached at all four of its mines. Breaches included dust emissions almost double the national standard, and mining more than 136,000 tonnes of coal than permitted, for which the company was fined just US$12,000 ($A15,000). (ABC News, Environmental Justice Australia)

Trump Administration rolls back Obama-era rules: The U.S. Department of the Interior has rescinded an Obama-era rule which ensured royalties for oil, gas and coal from public lands were levied on the first “arms-length” sale. Before the previous administration’s change, companies often sold the commodities to a related party for a low price, thereby reducing the royalty payable. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis estimates the loophole cut the government’s income by almost US$30 billion over 30 years. (Reuters)


Australia: Queensland Government grants mining licence to Glencore for Wandoan thermal coal project.

China: Tianjin power company seeks US$150 million in “green bonds” to fund 2000 MW coal plant.

Myanmar: Chinese companies propose exporting surplus power from Yunnan province via new transmission links.

Myanmar: NGOs runs coal awareness trainings as 1280 MW Thai-Japanese project inches forward.

South Africa: Eight groups seek judicial review of decision to grant mining licence in Mabola Protected Environment.

Spain: Court orders tougher pollution standards for Soto de Ribera plant in Asturias.

US: Over 162,000 comments submitted opposing water permit for proposed Washington state coal port.

Vietnam: Barge with over 1000 tonnes of coal sinks in Chanh River.

Vietnam: Feasibility study ordered into coal transhipment port for up to seven Mekong Delta power plants.

Companies + Markets

Lignite mine for Kemper CCS plant stranded: The North American Coal Corporation (NACCO) has given notice that in October it will close the Liberty lignite mine, the sole supplier for the now-orphaned Kemper Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) plant. The mine, which was only commissioned in July 2016 at an estimated cost of US$254 million, has no other possible markets. Mississippi Power is liable for the costs of mine rehabilitation. Southern Company – Mississippi Power’s parent – has written off a further US$2.8 billion on the CCS project, bringing the total writedown on the project to US$6 billion. (NACCO, SunHerald)

Audit launched into Eskom’s Gupta coal deals: South Africa’s Finance Minister, Malusi Gigaba, has directed the National Treasury to initiate a forensic investigation into Eskom’s coal deals with the Gupta family’s Tegeta Exploration and Resources. President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma, owns a minority stake in Tegeta. (Business Day, Business Day)

Sri Lankan regulator rejects utility’s power plan claims: The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka has rejected claims by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) that the regulator doesn’t have the power to amend the utility’s preferred long-term generation plan, which initially included new coal units. Director General Damitha Kumarasinghe pointed out the final plan was based on a no-coal scenario submitted by CEB which was shown to be cheaper than scenarios which included coal plants. Sri Lanka’s Cabinet has also authorised CEB to call tenders for new short-term diesel plants as well as solar and wind farms, to help overcome the effects of drought on hydro generation and the unreliability of the Norochcholai coal plant. (The Sunday Times, The Sunday Times)

Glencore takes swipe at Adani subsidy bid: In a speech to an Australian-British Chamber of Commerce lunch Glencore’s Global Head of Coal Assets, Peter Freyberg, obliquely criticised Adani’s bid for a taxpayer loan of up to US$790 million for the Carmichael coal project. Freyberg said Glencore would focus on opportunities in the NSW Hunter Valley “rather than considerably more risky ventures that rely on taxpayer subsidies to get across the line and which will bring on massive volumes of additional coal supply into the market, which could undermine existing operations.” (The Australian [paywall], Australian-British Chamber of Commerce)

Mozambique signs agreement to expand Beira port: Essar Ports, a subsidiary of the Indian-headquartered Essar, has entered into a 30-year concession agreement to potentially expand the coal export capacity at the port of Beira by up to 20 million tonnes a year. The agreement was first mooted in 2014. In mid-2016 the capacity of the Sena railway from the Moatize coalfield was increased to 20 million tonnes a year. However, Essar’s project is in competition with a Chinese-backed proposal approved in June for a new 500 kilometre-long railway from Moatize to the port of Macuse. (Essar Ports,  CoalSwarm)

Pressure on old German coal plants increases: Greenhouse gas emissions from Germany’s hard coal plants fell in the first half of 2017 while emissions from lignite plants rose. On current trends Germany will only cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent cut by 2020 compared to its 40 per cent target. However, projected low power prices over the next year are likely to increase pressure on old power plants to close, especially hard coal plants reliant on imported coal. Chancellor Angela Merkel has deferred further consideration of strategies to reach Germany’s climate targets until after the September 24 general election. (Platts, Platts)

India abandons coal mine auction: The Indian Government has cancelled the auction of six metallurgical coal mines after receiving little bidding interest from private companies. In December 2015 the government had cancelled the auction of the same blocks due to lack of interest from companies in the steel sector, despite a heavy reliance on imported metallurgical coal. NTPC, the government-owned power utility, is also seeking to surrender two coal blocks in Chhattisgarh which it now considers “economically and technically unviable.” (Economic Times, IndiaToday)


“Forgotten in the dust of northern Colombia”, Washington Post, August 7, 2017.

This photo essay portrays the daunting challenges confronting the indigenous Wayuu people of the Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia, a community which is also adversely affected by the Cerrejon coal mine. The Cerrejon mine is jointly owned by BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Glencore.

Carmichael to Abbot Point Rail: Financing issues for Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, ACIL Allen Consulting report to the Australian Conservation Foundation, July 2017. (Pdf)

This 25-page report critiques the Australian Government’s consideration of a possible loan from the publicly-funded Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility for Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine.