August 11, 2021
Issue 381  |  View Past Issues

Editor's Note

The latest United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientific assessment report has rekindled debate about the need to accelerate the phase-out of coal and other fossil fuels. Coal projects are also being rejected for reasons other than just their greenhouse gas emissions. The Canadian Government has rejected the proposed Grassy Mountain metallurgical coal mine on the grounds of damage to First Nations heritage and water pollution impacts on fish, especially from selenium emissions. This comes as other projects in Alberta are facing strong community opposition, with doubts that speculative projects pushed by Australian companies are viable. In Germany, thousands of people turned out to protest against the threat to villages threatened by the proposed expansion of the Garzweiler mine.

In the Philippines, one of the country’s major banks has brought forward the end date for its financial support for coal plants by four years to 2033. In the US, the rise and rise of renewables is likely to see utilities rack up significant losses on the costs of recent upgrades to old coal plants. The risk to utilities comes in other forms too. Just a week after the South African utility Eskom announced the 4800 megawatt (MW) Medupi plant had finally been commissioned, one of the generators has been seriously damaged in an explosion during maintenance. The unit is likely to be out of action for a long time, pushing the grid to a perilous position once more.

Bob Burton


‘It is Peabody’s duty’: First Nations leaders say Peabody is not cleaning up mines on Black Mesa

Hopi and Navajo community advocates have expressed alarm that US government agencies aren’t ensuring Peabody Energy properly cleans up after it closed the Kayenta mine in 2019, writes Krista Allen in the Navajo Times.

Indonesia’s coal phase-out is just more business as usual, report says

Indonesia’s plan to phase out coal is a mere rebranding of an existing timeline to decommission aging plants, with no meaningful shift toward actually quitting the fossil fuel, writes Hans Nicholas Jong in Mongabay.

Adani Ports and its inextricable links to coal and the Myanmar military regime

Adani Ports, the flagship of the Adani Group, has been implicated in human-rights controversies, the destruction of coastal ecosystems and a huge expansion of the coal industry in Australia and India, writes Geoff Law in Adani Watch.


Canada rejects metallurgical coal mine in Alberta

Canada’s Minister for the Environment, Jonathan Wilkinson, has rejected Benga Mining’s proposed Grassy Mountain metallurgical coal mine in Alberta. In June, a joint provincial and federal review panel concluded the project was “not in the public interest” and denied the required provincial permits. The assessment report found the impacts on Indigenous rights and the environment outweighed the economic benefits. It also rejected Benga Mining’s claims it would be able to capture 98 per cent of selenium emissions from its waste rock dumps as “overly optimistic”. In a decision under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Wilkinson said the project would damage the physical and cultural heritage of three First Nations groups, would reduce surface water quality and adversely affect the threatened westslope cutthroat trout and the endangered whitebark pine. Benga Mining is a subsidiary of the Australia-based Riversdale Resources, a company owned by Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart. (CBC, Government of Canada)

Top News

Thousands protest against expansion of German coal mine: About 2500 people demonstrated against the proposed expansion of energy company RWE’s Garzweiler lignite mine which threatens the village of Luetzerath in North-Rhine Westphalia. The protest included a four kilometre long human chain between Luetzerath and the nearby town of Keyenberg which is also threatened by the expansion of the mine. The Garzweiler mine supplies over 30 million tonnes of lignite a year to the nearby 4424 MW Neurath and 3248 MW Niederaussem power stations. (ABCNews)

US, UK and Canada impose sanctions on Belarusian coal trader: The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has named Belarusian businessman Mikalai Varabei as subject to US sanctions as a result of profiting from his connection to the regime headed by President Alexander Lukashenko. OFAC dubbed Varabei as Lukashenko’s “energy wallet” who had the capacity to finance and benefit from the authoritarian regime. OFAC stated Varabei’s company, BelKazTrans, was granted exclusive control over the transit of coal through Belarus while its Ukrainian subsidiary, BelKazTrans Ukraine, delivers coal from Russia and Ukraine’s Donbas region. (Argus, The White House, US Treasury)

Hydrogen explosion cripples unit at Eskom’s new Medupi plant: A major explosion has caused “extensive damage” to the 795 MW Unit 4 at Eskom’s trouble plagued 4800 MW Medupi coal plant. Eskom said the explosion occurred when the generator was offline and a maintenance crew was attempting to find a leak. The utility stated air was introduced into the generator while hydrogen was still present. The correct procedure is for hydrogen, which is used to cool the generator, to be first displaced with carbon dioxide. The unit, which was first commissioned in November 2017, is likely to be offline for a considerable time. Eskom reported no employees were injured. (Fin24, Eskom)

Indonesia suspends exports by 34 coal companies: Indonesia has suspended coal exports by 34 coal mining companies after they breached regulations requiring 25 per cent of coal produced to be sold to the local market. Most coal sold under the domestic market obligation goes to the publicly owned power utility PLN. While the Ministry of Energy confirmed some companies had been sanctioned, it did not identify the companies or detail the penalties. A document seen by a media outlet revealed four of the companies are members of the Indonesia Coal Miners Association, the coal industry’s peak lobby group. One the sanctioned companies is PT Arutmin Indonesia, a subsidiary of Indonesia's largest coal miner PT Bumi Resources. Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal and is projected to export almost 450 million tonnes in 2021. (CNA)

Chief Minister proposes slashing size of Indian elephant reserve: Correspondence between the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Bhupesh Baghel, and the state forest department has revealed a plan to slash the size of the proposed Lemru Elephant Reserve to just one-tenth of the original proposal. The proposed boundary charges exclude the Kente Extension, Parsa and Gidhmuri Paturia coal blocks which Adani Group are seeking to mine and the Madanpur South coal block sought by the Aditya Birla Group. (The Morning Context [reg. required)

Alarm at Indian Government plans to weaken land legislation: Community activists are alarmed at plans by the Modi government to amend the existing Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act and extend exemptions from key provisions of the 2013 Land Acquisition Act to private coal companies. The draft bill would exempt private coal mining companies from undertaking social impact assessments, gaining informed consent from the local community and paying appropriate compensation. The changes would have a major impact on tribal communities. At present the exemption from the land acquisition act is only available to public sector companies. The Modi government recently allowed private mining companies to sell coal into the domestic market beyond captive projects. (Down to Earth, NewsClick)

Adani wins three of eight available mines at Indian coal auctions: The Ministry of Coal’s hopes of auctioning 67 coal allocations in its second round auction for commercial mining companies resulted in only eight mines ultimately being sold. Of the eight, Adani subsidiary CG Natural Resources won the bidding for the Khargaon and mines in Chhattisgarh with Adani Power gaining the Gondkhari block in Maharashtra. The eight blocks are estimated to contain about 849 million tonnes of coal though the economic resource is likely to be far smaller. (Financial Express, Economic Times)

“This report [the IPCC Working Group 1 Report] must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. There must be no new coal plants built after 2021. OECD countries must phase out existing coal by 2030, with all others following suit by 2040,”

said Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General.


Australia: Mackay Conservation Group expresses concern that conditions imposed on Adani’s Carmichael coal railway project are not being met.

Australia: Queensland Government moves to retrospectively approve 86 coal mining leases found not to have been validly granted.

Australia: New South Wales Environment Protection Authority has fined a Yancoal Australia subsidiary A$30,000 (US$22,000) for two water pollution incidents in January 2021.

Sri Lanka: Controversy erupts over Central Environmental Authority’s provisional approval for Lanwa Sanstha Cement Corporation to import coal for a proposed steel plant.

UK: Uniper announces a 500 MW unit at the 2000 MW Ratcliffe coal plant will be retired in September 2022. The plant is due to close by September 2024.

Companies + Markets

Philippines bank brings end to coal lending forward to 2033: The Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), one of the country’s largest banks, has announced it will accelerate its end for coal lending and phase out support for coal plants 2033. BPI’s new president, Teodoro Limcaoco, said its original commitment was to halve coal funding by 2026 and end support by 2037. At present renewables and coal power both account for about 45 per cent of the bank’s power generation loan portfolio with gas plants accounting for the remainder. “We are looking to finance renewable power moving forward because that’s what the country needs,” he said. BPI is owned by Ayala Corporation, a major shareholder in several coal plants, and has been the target of community protests over its support for coal projects. (Inquirer)

Report argues coal plants at risk as renewables accelerate: A report by S&P Global Market Intelligence argues up to US$34 billion invested in upgrading old coal plants may have to be written off based on the current rate of renewables growth. Over 100 coal plants, with a combined capacity of over 130,000 MW, have been or are likely to be retrofitted to cut sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions. The report notes part or all of 22 coal plants that have been subject to upgrades at a cost of over US$3.5 billion are already slated for retirement. Report co-author Steve Piper said as most old plants were already beyond their useful life, the stranded asset risk was tied to pollution upgrade equipment designed to extend the life of the units. He estimates an increase in renewables deployment or the introduction of a clean energy standard will increase the stranded asset risk for both coal and gas plants. (Utility Dive, S & P Global Market Intelligence [Pdf])

Doubts low-quality Alberta metallurgical projects would be viable: In separate submissions to the Alberta’s Coal Policy Committee two mining industry veterans argue proposed low-quality metallurgical coal mines in Alberta won’t be able to compete against higher quality coal from Teck Resources’ Elk Valley mines in British Columbia. Cornelis Kolijn, who worked for Teck from 2001 to 2018, said “these speculative mines don’t meet the requirements to be viable by any economic analysis.” Willem Langenberg, a retired geologist who worked for the Alberta Geological Survey, said the coal in the Crowsnest Pass area was poor quality compared to the Elk Valley coal. The committee was appointed by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney after a public backlash after his government opened the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains for coal developments without public consultation. (The Tyee)

Analyst warns steel industry needs to slash greenhouse emissions: Wood McKenzie, a major industry consultancy group, estimates that the adoption of measures to limit global heating to a 2 degree increase would lead to “almost halving” global metallurgical coal demand by 2050. While Chinese imports would be all but eliminated, it estimates Indian imports would double to 123 million tonnes a year. Wood Mackenzie estimates slashing emissions from the steel sector will require doubling scrap use in steel making, tripling direct reduced iron production and use and dramatically reducing electric arc furnace emissions. It would also require that emissions from existing blast furnaces be slashed and carbon capture and storage technology installed to trap the balance of emissions. The consultancy’s announcement did not mention the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. (Mining Weekly, Wood Mackenzie)

Investor group to pressure steel producers to cut greenhouse emissions: The Climate Action 100+, a coalition of investor groups, said the global steel industry needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 29 per cent by 2030 and 91 per cent by 2050 to align with the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 goal. Of the 107 steel companies producing over 3 million tonnes of steel a year, only nine — China Baowu, ArcelorMittal, Nippon Steel, China’s HBIS, Posco, US Steel, Thyssenkrupp, SSAB and Outokumpu — have stated a commitment to a net zero emission target. Climate Action 100+’s steel sector strategy promotes reducing emissions through the emerging technology of hydrogen-fuelled direct reduced iron in electric arc furnaces or carbon capture and storage. The group is also promoting the need for major consumers of steel to commit to buy ‘green steel’ and the provision of finance for major investments in low carbon steelmaking capacity. (Financial Times, Climate Action 100+)

South Korea outline three scenarios for decarbonisation: South Korea’s presidential committee on carbon neutrality, co-chaired by Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, has published a draft plan setting out three potential scenarios to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. One relies on retrofitting carbon capture and storage to seven coal plants still operating in 2050 with another scenario phasing out coal generation but retaining LPG plants. The final scenario is based on substituting hydrogen for coal and gas generation. A level of nuclear generation is included in all three scenarios. The scenarios come as the Dutch pension fund administrator APG Asset Management has warned the South Korean government that its failure to scrap three major coal plants under construction is a “significant risk factor” to its willingness to invest in the country. (Argus, EconoTimes)

Greensill loaned US coal company US$780 million on possible sales: Greensill Capital lent US$850 million to Bluestone Resources, a US coal company owned by West Virginia coal baron Governor Jim Justice, with only US$70 million secured against invoices for coal that had actually been sold. The BBC’s Panorama program has revealed investors’ funds for the other US$780 million loaned between 2018 and 2021 was backed only by potential coal sales. While Lex Greensill, the Australian founder of Greensill Capital, said the balance of the loans were based on future trade likely to occur with “current customers”, the BBC found six of the companies were not Bluestone customers nor had any plans to be. Greensill then said Bluestone only had to expect to make the sales and it was not for his company to make checks. Bluestone is currently suing Greensill Capital for breach of contract, fraud and a breach of fiduciary duties. (BBC)

Colombia looks to use coal for hydrogen production: A draft hydrogen industry roadmap for Colombia, published by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, proposes to install at least 1000 MW of electrolyser capacity by 2030. However, the report proposes “taking advantage of big gas and coal reserves” to produce 50 kilotonnes of ‘blue’ hydrogen based on gas and coal gasification. The plan proposes ‘blue’ hydrogen production plants be equipped with carbon capture and storage by 2030. The draft roadmap is available for comment until August 15. (BNAmericas, Argus)


Frogs and the impacts of coal mining, YouTube, August 2021.

This 6-minute Australian documentary illustrates the impacts underground coal mining in New South Wales has on frog habitat.

Power Plants and Neighboring Communities, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), August 2021.

The EPA has created an environmental justice mapping tool of communities located near US fossil fuel power plants.

“In-depth Q&A: The IPCC’s sixth assessment report on climate science”, Carbon Brief, August 9, 2021.

This online article provides a detailed overview of the key points of the new United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the latest climate science.