Third time's the charm: Despite twice denying to grant terms of reference following failure to install pollution curbing technology in existing units, MOEFCC begins clearing way for two new units in Koradi, Maharashtra | Photo: L&T Power

Flip-flop: After a Cabinet stay, environment ministry permits new coal units at Koradi

In a policy flip-flop, the environment ministry initiated a process to allow two new 660MW units at the already polluting coal plant at Koradi Thermal Power Station in Maharashtra after the Cabinet put a stay on it. In 2019, the ministry panel had refused to grant terms of reference (TOR) for the second time over failure to control pollution from the plant and threatened against Mahagenco for not installing flue gas desulphuriser (FGD) to curb sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. The unit’s Ash Water Recycling System was not working, it dumped effluents into open drains, and had not established piezometric wells around the ash pond.

Environmentalists are shocked that the government gave permission for fresh units even after the existing one did not install technology to cut SO2 emissions. Experts said with India already having surplus generation capacity it makes no climate or economic sense to go for new investments in polluting coal.

COVID-19 lockdown: Delhi recorded steepest drop and sharpest rise in air pollution

As the lockdown opens up partially, air pollution in Delhi has shot up much faster than other major Indian cities, a Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) report said. In Delhi, air pollution had dropped massively to around 80% in the early phases of the lockdown that was imposed on March 24. During this period, the CSE studied PM 2.5 levels in six mega cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. 

According to the study, Delhi pollution has bounced back four to eight times, as compared to two to six times in other cities, during both the initial and last phases of the lockdown, the report said. In the early phase of the lockdown, the PM 2.5 levels in other cities dropped by 45-88% and witnessed a pollution spike of 2-6 times on opening up, but the fall and spike in pollution was the greatest in Delhi, researchers said. 

CSE reported 12.1 million registered vehicles in Delhi (4.6 million owned privately), of which very few took to the road during the lockdown. Commute to work fell by 60%, while retail and recreation activities fell 84%, CSE said. Cycling and walking increased from 14% to 43%, the report said.

South Korean firm liable for deaths due to gas leak in Vizag

In the styrene gas leak case that killed 12 people in Visakhapatnam, India’s green court held the South Korean firm LG Polymers “absolutely” liable for the deaths. The court cited a report by its panel that said the company did not take proper care of the storage tank that resulted in heating and auto-polymerization of styrene, which leaked in the form of vapour. The court said the ₹50 crore in compensation deposited by the company would be spent on restoration. It also constituted a committee to prepare a restoration plan.

Meanwhile, the Union ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) said the company was operating without environmental clearances and the state government has still not forwarded their application for clearance to the Centre. The company had accepted that it operated its petrochemical plant from 1997 to 2019, mostly without state clearance. The green court ordered the government to use the Rs50-crore penalty to compensate victims.

Failure to mention dirty air in UK COVID-19 report ‘astonishing’

Experts and campaigners have slammed a recent report in the UK for failing to consider air pollution as a factor in assessing higher rates of COVID-19 deaths among ethnic minorities. They said the Public Health England review (PHE) released recently confirmed that the impact of COVID-19 was “disproportionate” among ethnic minorities but it failed to mention air pollution as one of the causes. 

Experts said the PHE omission is “astonishing” and “wholly irresponsible” in the light of the fact that globally most of the ethnic minorities are forced to live amid hazardous air pollution, and the link of increased risk of COVID-19 with dirty air has already been established. The PHE report also came under attack for failing to suggest ways to mitigate the disproportionate impact of covid among ethnic minorities and removing responses from third parties who had pointed out structural injustice.

Cut CO2 emissions to meet norms or face penalties, EU warns carmakers

Latest report by European Union climate agency says CO2 emissions from new cars in Europe spiked for the second consecutive year in 2018 and rising sales of SUVs added to the emissions spike that year.  Even as the car industry is hit by a drop in sales because of disruptions caused by COVID-19, the EU’s executive commission has asked car makers to cut their fleet’s CO2 footprint to meet the norms that would apply from this year in Europe. The auto industry will have to slash CO2 emissions by 27% compared to 2018 levels to meet the more stringent EU targets. As per the 2020 target, the CO2 emissions cap from new cars is at 95g CO2/km.

Germany proposes to double climate surcharge on fuel guzzlers from 2021

From 2021 onwards, Germany will impose more tax on the buyers of big cars as part of the proposed climate protection policy. The draft allows Germany to hike the existing climate protection surcharge on new cars from 2021, particularly on large SUVs. The proposed norms have doubled the surcharge on SUVs with carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of over 195g per km, the draft of the finance ministry showed.

Buyers of smaller cars with carbon dioxide emissions below 95g will not have to bear the hike in surcharge, while electric cars are totally exempt from any motor vehicle tax until the end of 2030.