February 11, 2021
Issue 356  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The dramatic shakeout of Colombia’s coal export industry continues to gather pace. Glencore, the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal, will relinquish the mining rights to two coal mines owned by its subsidiary Prodeco. The Japanese trading house Itochu has also announced it will dump its 20 per cent stake in Drummond International, which operates coal assets in Colombia, taking a US$839 million hit in the process. Elsewhere, the shift to renewables has forced major Australian coal power generators to take major writedowns on their plants. One of the country’s largest banks has also refused to continue financing the Port of Newcastle, the world’s largest export coal port. In the US, Arch Resources has announced the closure of a mine in Wyoming with more cuts to follow as demand for coal from the Powder River Basin plummets.

Sustained public opposition to coal projects has spurred some changes. In Australia, a proposed coal mine expansion has been rejected because of its impacts on Sydney’s water supply. In Cambodia, a coal ash processing plant has been ordered to shut down because of its health impacts. In Canada, public uproar has forced the Alberta Government to backtrack on its new coal policy. In the US, a judge has directed a federal agency to redo its environmental assessment of a proposed coal mine plan.

Bob Burton


An Alberta county drafted big tourism plans. Then came the coal leas

Recently approved coal leases overlap or adjoin areas Clearwater County officials identified as key spots to develop the county’s fledgling tourism industry, writes Sharon J. Riley in The Narwhal.

President Biden's promise for justice tested in tribal coal fields

President Biden faces questions about how to replace the now closed Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, marking an early test of his promises to weave environmental and social justice into his climate agenda, writes Benjamin Storrow in E&E News.

In Indonesia, a village held hostage by coal pleads for change

Residents of the Indonesian village of Suralaya are alarmed by the likely impacts of pollution from two new 1000 megawatt (MW) coal plants promoted by government-owned utility PLN with the support of the South Korean utility KEPCO, writes Della Syahni in Mongabay.


South 32 mine expansion rejected on concerns over impacts on Sydney water supply

The New South Wales Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has rejected South32's proposed 78 million tonne expansion of the Dendrobium underground metallurgical coal mine south of Sydney. The IPC stated the mine expansion “risks long-term and irreversible damage to Greater Sydney and the Illawarra’s drinking water catchment” and failed to protect the biodiversity and other environmental values of an area designated to protect the water catchment of the Illawarra region. It was estimated the mine expansion would have drained 7–8 billion litres of drinking water from the Illawarra–Sydney catchment area each year and threatened up to 47 swamps above the proposed longwall panels of coal to be extracted. (Guardian, Lock the Gate, Independent Planning Commission [Pdf])

Top News

Faced with a public backlash, Alberta backtracks on coal policy: Faced with a rapidly growing backlash to opening protected lands at the foot of the Rockies to coal mining, the Alberta Government has reinstated the former 1976 coal policy while promising public consultation on a new policy. However, four projects approved under the previous policy and two approved after the 1976 policy was rescinded will be permitted to continue. All six projects belong to Australian companies. In May last year the United Conservative Party’s Minister for Energy, Sonya Savage, revoked the 1976 policy without public consultation and announced the decision on the evening of a long weekend. The Alberta Wilderness Association said it was “pleasantly surprised” by the government’s move but noted new mines could still be approved. (The Tyee, Reuters, Government of Alberta)

Controversial Cambodian coal ash plant to close: Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment has ordered a coal ash processing plant at Steung Hav in Sihanoukville Province close by February 15. The ministry cited the health impacts on local communities, which have long complained about pollution from the plant. The plant processes coal ash from three nearby coal plants, one of which was a second-hand Chinese coal unit imported from Hunan province. (Cambodia China Times [Cambodian],  Panda Paw, Dragon Claw)

UK council to reconsider approval for Cumbrian mine: West Cumbria Council is set to reconsider its decision to approve West Cumbria Mining’s proposed Woodhouse Colliery after being informed of the UK Government’s greenhouse gas reduction targets. In October the council granted planning approval for the mine but the formal decision notice has not been issued. In January the Secretary of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, announced he would not call in the decision for review, sparking widespread public criticism including from its own Committee on Climate Change. The Opposition Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have called on Jenrick to reverse his position rather than leave the decision with the local council. (Cumbria Crack, Guardian)

US judge directs agency to revise coal mine assessment: A US federal court judge has ruled in favour of WildEarth Guardians and Montana Environmental Information Center that the US Office of Surface Mining (OSM) had ignored the health, air pollution and greenhouse gas impacts of the proposed expansion of the Spring Creek Mine in Montana. Since the case was first filed the Spring Creek Mine has been purchase by the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, a controversial business unit of the Navajo Nation. Judge Susan Watters found the OSM’s decision not to require an environmental impact statement on the expansion was “arbitrary and capricious” and has given the agency 240 days to complete a “corrective” analysis and an “updated” environmental assessment. (CourthouseNews, WildEarth Guardians)

German utility sues Netherlands over forced close of coal plants: The German utility RWE has filed a €1.4 billion (US$1.7 billion) compensation claim before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, the World Bank's arbitration court, over the Netherlands’ plan to close all coal plants by 2030. The Netherlands policy will require RWE to close its 600 MW Amer plant, which was commissioned in 1993, and its 1560 MW Eemshaven plant, which was commissioned in 2015. RWE has launched the case on the basis of the Energy Charter Treaty, an investment charter agreed to by the European Union in 1994. ClientEarth, an environmental law NGO, argues that while RWE’s case is unlikely to succeed the treaty is a potential barrier to further climate action. The NGO has called on the European Union to withdraw from the treaty as Italy did in 2016. (Clean Energy Wire, ClientEarth, Euractiv)

Study estimates global death toll from fossil fuel pollution at 8.7 million: Research by Harvard University and others has estimated that fine particle pollution from fossil fuels accounted for about 8.7 million deaths or 18 per cent of all 2018 deaths. The study, which was published in the journal Environmental Research, noted its estimate is far higher than the 4.2 million deaths the 2019 Global Burden of Disease report published by The Lancet. The authors of the latest study state they undertook more detailed modelling of the health impacts of PM2.5 fine particle air pollution. The study found the greatest premature death toll due to fine particle air pollution occurs in India (2.5 million) and China (2.4 million), followed by parts of eastern US, Europe and Southeast Asia. (Guardian, Harvard University, Environmental Research)

Indian NGO warns against further delay in emissions standards: The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based think tank, has argued against a proposal by the Ministry of Power to further delay the introduction of new pollution standards applying to the country’s 448 coal units until 2024. CSE argues further delay would make “a complete mockery” of efforts over the last five years by the Supreme Court and regulators to control air pollution. The standards for power plants were first announced in December 2015 to come into effect in December 2017 but have been repeatedly delayed in response to lobbying by private and public power utilities. CSE has proposed that the government prioritise power purchases from units that have met the standards and penalise those that have not installed pollution control equipment. (Down to Earth)

Non-profit at heart of Ohio bailout scandal pleads guilty on racketeering charges: Generation Now, the dark money non-profit group at the heart of the Ohio utility scandal, has pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge. Generation Now states it was funded by an unnamed company and “intentionally conspired” to “be used as a mechanism to receive undisclosed donations to benefit [Larry] Householder and to advance Householder's efforts to become Speaker.” In return for an estimated US$61 million in funding from FirstEnergy, Ohio’s former House Speaker Larry Householder and others pushed through legislation providing subsidies to bail out  two nuclear plants and two coal plants. Generation Now is the third defendant to plead guilty though Householder, who was re-elected in November, remains a member of the Ohio House of Representatives and insists he is innocent. (Statehouse News Bureau)

“We remain confident in the ability of our thermal [coal mining] assets to generate sufficient levels of cash to pay for their own ultimate closure costs,”

said John Drexler, the Chief Operating Officer of the US coal mining company Arch Resources.


Australia: The NSW Environment Protection Authority has fined MACH Energy Australia A$15,000 (US$11,600) for an “offensive and vile smelling blast” at its Mount Pleasant Mine on June 15, 2020.

South Africa: Department of Mineral Resources and Energy has granted MC Mining the mining rights for the Mopane metallurgical and thermal coal mine in Limpopo province.

Laos: Government official says work on two new coal plants for power exports to Cambodia will begin by the end of 2021.

New Zealand: Bathurst Resources announces it will close the 100,000-tonnes-a-year Canterbury coal mine in June 2021.

South Korea: Agreement signed for 8200 MW offshore windfarm to offset reduced coal and nuclear capacity.

US: Alliant Energy announces it will close the 1100 MW Columbia Energy Center, Wisconsin’s last coal plant, by the end of 2024.

Companies + Markets

Glencore surrenders licence for Colombian mines: Glencore, the world’s largest thermal coal exporter, has decided to relinquish the mining licences held by its Prodeco subsidiary for its Calenturitas and La Jagua mines in Colombia. Prodeco, which mothballed the projects in March 2020, had sought government approval for a four-year suspension of operations, which was rejected. In a letter to employees, the company said it would not be viable to recover the significant costs it estimated would be required to continue production. In 2019 the company produced 15.6 million tonnes of thermal coal. The company said it will continue to operate the Puerto Nuevo coal terminal, which is used by several companies, and retain its 40 per cent stake in Fenoco, which owns and operates the railway to the port. (Argus, Glencore)

Japanese trading house dumps Colombian coal mine stake: Itochu has announced it will sell Itochu Coal Americas, which holds a 20 per cent stake in Drummond International to Drummond Resources. Drummond International owns coal mining leases and associated infrastructure in Colombia. The Alabama-based Drummond Resources, which European human rights groups accused of exporting “blood coal”, is estimated to have exported 29.3 million tonnes from its Colombian operations in 2020. Itochu reported it would incur an 88.6 billion yen (US$839 million) loss on the sale of its stake in the projects. Itochu bought its stake in Drummond International in June 2011 in return for being granted exclusive marketing rights for the coal from the mines. (Reuters, Itochu[Pdf])

Ongoing decline in demand hits US coal producers: Peabody Energy, the largest US coal producer, has reported a net loss in 2020 of US$1.87 billion, with the company reporting its US thermal coal sales of 105.5 million US short tons (96 million tonnes) were down 22.4 per cent compared to the year before. The company said that in 2020 it cut its workforce by about 2000 employees (30 per cent), and idled nine mines for parts of the year. The company said it expects its 2021 production to be on a par with 2020. Coal production from the Powder River Basin, which spans Montana and Wyoming, fell 21.8 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. Arch Resources announced it will close its Coal Creek mine in Wyoming and is “laying the groundwork for systematically reducing the operational footprint at its Black Thunder mine.” The Black Thunder mine is the second largest coal producer in the US supplying over 50.2 million short tons (45.5 million tonnes) in 2020. (S & P Global, Peabody Energy, S & P Global)

Major bank rules out financial support for Australia’s largest coal port: ANZ Bank has ruled out providing financial support for the Port of Newcastle, the world's largest coal export port, as a result of its climate change policy. In 2019 Newcastle Port exported 160 million tonnes of coal; other products made up less than one per cent of its export volume. However, the National Australian Bank, another major Australia bank, has agreed to finance the port. The Hunter Jobs Alliance has called for the NSW Government to accelerate its support for the diversification of the Hunter Valley away from reliance on coal. The alliance’s co-ordinator, Warrick Jordan, said investors “are already moving pretty quickly in a low carbon direction, and they will keep moving.” (ABC News)

Australian energy utilities write down assets as renewables boom: Major Australian utilities – AGL and two Queensland Government-owned generators – have reported major asset writedowns due to the rapid growth in renewable generation. AGL, Australia’s largest energy generator and retailer, wrote down A$532 million (US$412 million) on its generation assets. The company attributed this and other writedowns to declining wholesale market prices for energy as new, cheap renewables come online and state governments have announced policies to accelerate the transition to renewables. AGL, which owns the Bayswater, Liddell and Loy Yang coal plants, which have a combined capacity of 6530 MW, is Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. A report by the Queensland Audit Office reported the Queensland Government-owned Stanwell and CS Energy wrote down the value of their coal power stations by A$720 million and A$353 million respectively due to the same factors. (Argus, Queensland Audit Office, Sydney Morning Herald, AGL)

Think tank warns captive coal plants for Chinese aluminium smelters must close: Muyi Yang, an analyst with the climate think tank Ember, estimates China will need to shut about 47,000 MW of inefficient captive coal plant capacity supplying aluminium smelters over the next decade to meet President Xi’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2060. China accounted for 57.2 per cent of global aluminium production in 2020. Ember estimates aluminium smelting accounts for nine per cent of all coal power generation in China, with nearly all production directed to domestic consumption. (Reuters, Ember)

US start-up pitches different route to hydrogen for ‘green steel’ production: Boston Metal, a US-based company, recently raised US$50 million in funding from eight investors to build a small 25,000 ton (22,700 tonne) demonstration plant to test its molten oxide electrolysis technology for producing steel directly from iron ore without coking coal. The company claims its technology could produce steel with 20 per cent less electricity than used by conventional blast furnaces and avoid the use of metallurgical coal. BHP, the world’s largest exporter of metallurgical coal, contributed an unspecified sum to Boston Metals’ capital raising. Other companies, such as ArcelorMittal, Mitsuishi Heavy Industries and SSAB, are pursuing the production of steel from renewables-produced hydrogen. (Grist)


Chinese ban on Australian coal disrupts Asia-Pacific trade, Argus Media, February 2021. (Pdf)

This 6-page paper looks at the impact of China’s ban on coal imports from Australia on trade flows and prices in the Asia–Pacific coal market.

India Energy Outlook, International Energy Agency, February 2021. (Registration required). The media release is here, the Executive Summary is here and the report presentation is here.

This 251-page report provides a detailed overview of possible Indian energy scenarios to 2040 including for the coal, renewables, steel and cement sectors.