February 21, 2019
Issue 264  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

In a remarkable demonstration of the resilience of Turkish civil society, a push to delay pollution compliance for the power sector was rejected by all the parties in the parliament. In India, ongoing pollution at Murmago port has rekindled public opposition to the operation of coal import terminals run by Jindal and Adani. In the US, the controversial Drummond Company has been fined US$775,000 for failing to control benzene emissions from a coal processing plant in Alabama. In Russia, coal pollution in the Kuzbass coal mining region is so bad that residents have turned to social media to document black snow covering their towns. A new report finds that pollution from 16 old plants in the Western Balkans is so extreme that they cause an estimated 3900 premature deaths a year occur across Europe.

In South Africa, the financial crisis engulfing Eskom is posing ever greater risks to the entire economy, with a government bailout of the utility potentially leading to a downgrading of the country’s credit rating. In the US, despite lobbying pressure from President Trump, the Tennessee Valley Authority decided to retire two old coal plants. In Japan, Itochu has adopted a new climate policy ruling out further investments in new coal plants or thermal coal mines. To cap the week off, Glencore - the world's largest exporter of thermal coal - has announced a new climate policy in which it states its support for the Paris Agreement and capping its coal production near current levels.

Bob Burton


Coal’s other dark side: toxic ash 

The devastating health effects on many of the workers who cleaned up coal ash after a 2008 tailings dam collapse in Tennessee have shone a light onto the toxic constituents of coal ash, writes Joel K. Bourne, Jr. in National Geographic.

For Indonesian presidential hopefuls, burning coal is business as usual

President Joko Widodo and his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, have yet to make any meaningful statements on the future of coal in their presidential debates or campaign activities, writes Hans Nicholas Jong in Mongabay.

Glencore brings the end of thermal coal a step closer

The adoption of a production cap by Glencore, the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal, is yet another signal that the era of coal power is drawing to a close, writes David Fickling in Bloomberg.

Top News

Turkey scraps push to delay pollution standards: A push to defer the introduction of new air pollution emission limits has been dropped after all political parties in Turkey’s parliament opposed the move. The campaign opposing the proposed changes, which would have affected at least 10 proposed coal plants, attracted 65,000 signatures on a petition to the parliament. Legislation passed in 2013 allowed power plants until the end of 2019 to install pollution control equipment to meet air quality standards. Modelling suggests lax pollution standards could cause about 1100 premature deaths a year. Many of the proposed coal plants are near tourist sites in Turkey and Greece. (350.org Turkey [Google Translate], Health and Environment Alliance)

Action urged on Western Balkans coal pollution: A new report by the Health and Environment Alliance has found that in 2016, 16 aging coal plants in the Western Balkans caused an estimated 3900 premature deaths, the majority occurring in the European Union (EU). The report estimates that the plants, with a combined capacity of 8000 megawatts (MW), emitted a similar volume of sulphur dioxide pollution as 250 coal-fired plants with 30 times the capacity in the rest of the European Union. While the Energy Community Treaty between the EU and its neighbours set a December 2018 deadline for upgrading pollution controls on the plants, works have mostly been deferred. A further 2700 MW of new coal plants, mostly backed by Chinese banks, are proposed despite not meeting EU pollution standards. (Reuters, Health and Environment Alliance)

Black Russian snow highlights coal pollution: Videos posted by residents of the coal mining Kuzbass region to social media have revealed streets lined with coal-covered snow. “It’s harder to find white snow than black snow during the winter,” said Vladimir Slivyak from Ecodefense. About half of Russia’s total coal production comes from the Kuzbass coal basin. After the imposition of economic sanctions after the invasion of Crimea, the Russian Government has pursued increasing coal exports especially into the European and Asian markets. In 2018, 191 million tonnes of the 432 million tonnes produced was exported. (Siberian Times, Guardian)

Mormugao port pollution rekindles protests: The Goa State Pollution Control Board (GCSB) has requested that all coal handling operations by a subsidiary of the Jindal Group be suspended due to air pollution affecting the suburbs around Mormugao port in Goa. Videos of coal dust being blown into residential areas have been widely shared on social media prompting a local NGO to file complaints with the police against the Mormugao Port Trust and subsidiaries of Adani and the Jindal Group. In January 2018, the GCSB temporarily suspended coal import operations after it was revealed that the port had handled well in excess of its permitted volume. In July 2018, the terminals were allowed to resume operation though at a far lower level. (Oherald, Times of India)

Drummond Company fined over excessive benzene emissions: Drummond Company has been fined US$775,000 for allowing benzene emissions at 10 times the permitted levels from its ABC Coke processing plant in Tarrant, Alabama. In 2011 inspectors from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Jefferson County Board of Health found that the company failed to properly monitor pipework for leaks and “open-ended lines were observed”. While the company addressed some of the alleged violations, not all were included in the monitoring program until the agencies began settlement negotiations with the company in 2017. A local environmental group, Gasp, has previously challenged the adequacy and enforcement of ABC Coke’s air pollution permit. Drummond Company also operates coal mines in Colombia and is one of the country’s largest exporters. (Al.com, US Environmental Protection Agency)

Adani’s Australian lawyers proposed ‘war’ against company’s critics: A legal strategy, titled ‘Taking the Gloves Off’, drafted by AJ & Co Lawyers for Adani Australia proposed that “where activists and commentators spread untruths, use the legal system to silence them.” The strategy also proposed Adani “use the legal system to pressure decision makers.” Adani’s lawyers threatened legal action against Market Forces ahead of a proposed trip to South Korea to lobby banks against funding Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine. The strategy also recommended seeking to bankrupt individuals who pursued unsuccessful legal challenges against Adani. Adani said “we won't apologise for pursuing our legal rights.” Leading lawyers have criticised Adani’s legal strategy. (ABC News, Guardian)

German lignite state wants to backtrack on coal closures: The government of North Rhine–Westphalia has proposed that only 2400 MW of RWE lignite plants in its state be closed by 2022 instead of the 5000 MW proposed by the coal exit commission. The North Rhine–Westphalia Government is proposing the balance of the closures occur in the eastern lignite regions, which the coal exit commission proposed be closed last to limit adverse economic effects. However, environment groups argue that with 2000 MW of old coal plants already slated to go offline by 2022 only 3000 MW of additional RWE capacity needs to close, which would also enable the Hambach forest to be spared. RWE has stated that it will seek compensation of between €1.2 to €1.5 billion (US$1.4–1.7 billion) per 1000 MW, which is over double the cost of compensation paid for past closures. (Clean Energy Wire, Euractiv)


Australia: Endeavour Coal fined A$30,000 (US$21,400) over iron chloride pollution of a section of the Georges River in October 2018.

Australia: Government agency approves dumping of over one million tonnes of dredging sludge from the Hay Point coal terminal in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Australia: Pilot plant launched to convert 160 tonnes of brown coal to 3 tonnes of hydrogen. The Kawasaki Heavy Industries plant is costing taxpayers A$100 million (US$71 million).

Bangladesh: Dutch company Royal Haskoning DHV approved to draft master plan for Payra Port with the first stage to be a coal import terminal.

Greece: With the failure to sell lignite plants, the Greek Government confronts new options.

Pakistan: Illegal open-air stockpiling of coal spreads to areas surrounding Port Qasim port.

South Africa: Minister for Energy flags that the Integrated Resource Plan, a draft of which endorsed two new private coal plants, is likely to be finalised in March.

UK: Government agency finds nitrogen oxides pollution fell in 2017, due in part to decline of coal power.

Companies + Markets

US Government utility ignores Trump and votes to close old plants: The board of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a US government agency, has ignored lobbying pressure by President Donald Trump and decided to proceed with its plan to close the 1117 MW Unit 3 at the Paradise Fossil Plant in Kentucky and the 872 MW unit at the Bull Run plant in Tennessee. The TVA Board of Directors, a majority of whom were appointed by Trump, said investments in new flexible renewables capacity would better meet the needs of customers. The TVA’s Chief Financial Officer estimated the retirement of the two units would avoid the cost of spending US$1.3 billion on upgrades and was the most attractive option even in a scenario where gas costs doubled. (Utility Dive, Tennessee Valley Authority)

Itochu rules out new thermal coal investments but hedges on existing ones: In a revision of its climate policy the diversified Japanese company Itochu has stated that it will “neither develop any new coal-fired power generation business nor to acquire any new thermal coal mining interest.In 2016, the company sold its stake in the Newlands, Collinsville and Abbot Point projects and more recently its 12.5 per cent stake in the Rolleston thermal coal mine in Australia. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) notes Itochu’s announcement is the latest step away from supporting new thermal coal projects by major Japanese companies. However, the company continues to hold a 20 per cent stake in the controversial Drummond Company’s Colombian thermal coal mines, a 12.5 per cent stake Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine in New South Wales and other undeveloped coal projects in Australia and Indonesia. (Reuters, Itochu, IEEFA)

South Korea funds feasibility study on new Indonesian coal port and power plant: South Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries has confirmed that the government has agreed to fund a US$600,000 feasibility study on a proposed US$6.5 billion coal export terminal and power plant in North Kalimantan. The feasibility study is expected to be completed in about a year. A South Korean consortium, PT Dragon Land, is proposing the projects be built at the Tanah Kuning-Mangkupadi industrial zone which is currently under construction. (South China Morning Post)

Eskom’s crisis threatens South African economy: A rolling series of blackouts caused by Eskom’s failing coal plants has escalated the political controversy engulfing the power utility, with analysts expecting the Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni, to announce in his budget speech that between 50 and 100 billion rand (US$3.5 to US$7 billion) will be required to rescue the utility. About 300 billion rand (US$21.3 billion) of Eskom’s 420 billion rand (US$30 billion) debt is attributable to the new but unreliable Medupi and Kusile coal plants. Shifting significant debt from Eskom to the Treasury may trigger Moody’s to downgrade South Africa’s sovereign credit rating to junk status. Last week the Acting Director General of the Department of Public Enterprises, Thuto Shomang, told a parliamentary committee that without debt relief Eskom would be technically insolvent by April. (Fin24, Bloomberg, Sunday Times)

Legal doubts over Australian Government coal plant subsidy plan: Two leading barristers argue that the plan by the Australian Government to offer subsidies for the development of new coal plants is not constitutional and would be open to challenge in the High Court. In October, the Australian Government called for expressions of interest in its proposed Underwriting New Generation Investment Program. One politically well-connected developer, Trevor St Baker, has touted plans for a new A$2 billion 660 MW black coal plant in NSW's Hunter Valley and a new 1320 MW brown coal plant in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. However, it seems the government’s program is unlikely to be able to finalise funding agreements ahead of the Australian election in May. St Baker is also seeking Australian Government funding from a greenhouse gas emissions reduction fund to reduce emissions by just 1.3 per cent from his 40 year old 1320 MW Vales Point plant. (Guardian, Guardian, Australia Institute, CoalSwarm)

New Russian coal export terminal on Black Sea nears completion: The construction of a 25 million tonnes per annum coal export terminal at Laman on Russia’s Black Sea coast is reportedly set to be completed in March 2019. The port has had a chequered history after then Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, authorised the construction of the port in 2008 and allocated US$2.3 billion of federal funding for it in 2013. However, after Russia seized the ports in Crimea in 2014, work on the project was suspended. More recently, the port was reportedly scheduled to be commissioned in October 2018 but delayed “for technical reasons.” The port will facilitate Russian coal exports to countries in the Mediterranean, Middle East and North African markets. (Montel, Platts, CoalSwarm)

Chinese ban on unloading Australian shipments stalls new orders: Reports that Australian coal shipments are not being allowed to be unloaded at several northern Chinese ports and could be delayed for up to 45 days is having a knock-on effect on new orders. One Chinese coal trader, who imports about 400,000 tonnes of Australian coal a month, said that his company had ceased ordering Australian cargoes “because it is unknown how long the restriction will last.” Clearing customs in China normally takes between five and 20 days. (Reuters)

Glencore unveils policy to “broadly” cap thermal coal production: Under pressure from investors and financial institutions, Glencore has stated that it will “broadly” limit its coal production capacity to the 150 million tonnes a year it currently produces. The company, which is a member of industry lobby groups such as the World Coal Association and the Minerals Council of Australia and has been a vocal proponent of growth in coal demand, stated that it “will consider whether its membership in relevant trade associations aligns” with the company’s support for the goals of the Paris Agreement. The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility welcomed Glencore’s “modest” commitments. (Financial Times, Glencore, Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility)


Chronic coal pollution: EU action on the Western Balkans will improve health and economies across Europe, Health and Environment Alliance, February 2019. (Pdf)

This 48-page report investigates the health impact of 16 polluting coal plants in the Western Balkans, including impacts in other European Union countries.

A just transition of European coal regions: assessing stakeholder positions towards the transition away from coal, E3G, January 2019. (Pdf)

This 21-page report outlines the positions of important stakeholders in some of the most coal-dependent regions in Europe: Ustecky kraj in the Czech Republic, Western Macedonia in Greece, Upper Silesia in Poland, Horna Nitra in Slovakia and Obilic in Kosovo.