Unaccountable Power: Most of India’s coal plants won’t meet 2022 emissions deadline says new study, even as government allows power plants to use coal with high as content | Photo: Business Standard

Power plants allowed to use dirty coal, with high ash content

In a major setback to laws that regulate PM 2.5 levels in ambient air, new environment norms will allow power plants to use coal irrespective of its ash content. Environment ministry has dropped the 2014 notification that mandated coal plants located 500 km from pit-head to use coal with less than 34% ash content. Now it is up to the power plants to meet the pollution and emission norms of the Central Pollution Control Board.

The new norms make it mandatory to transport coal in covered vehicles and stresses on installing technologies to cut emissions at thermal power plants. The government also spelt out norms for washeries, management of ash ponds and disposal of ash by power plants.

In connected news, the Centre has also announced its decision to eliminate coal imports for use in India’s thermal power plants. The demand will now be met entirely through domestic supplies via Coal India Ltd.

Most coal plants to miss 2022 emission deadline, state-owned units worst performers: Study

Yet again, a majority of India’s coal plants (70%) will miss the 2022 deadline to follow new emission norms that were set way back in 2015, says the latest report by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Analysts said even after they were given a five-year extension in 2017, most of the coal plants will not be compliant with the crucial sulphur dioxide (SO2) standards by 2022.

Experts say coal power plants account for 60% of all the particulate matter emitted by the industry, 45% of SO2 emissions, 40% of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and 80% of mercury emissions. 

It takes two years to install Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) at a unit to cut emissions. To meet the 2022 deadline, that process should have begun in 2019, the report observed. As per the  CPCB’s assessment, nearly 50 GW of thermal power capacity requires the technology. The CSE report said compared to units owned by the Centre and private industry, the state-owned units have been the worst performers – only one has initiated the procedure of installing the technology to curb emissions so far.

Punjab farmers burn crop stubble, break 2-yr record despite ban, 322 farmers booked

Despite a ban, Punjab farmers burnt the stubble of their wheat crop to prepare fields for paddy crop. The fires broke a two-year record this season between April 15 and May 24. With a week more to go for the season to end on May 31, Punjab farmers have already lit over 13,026 field fires. There were a total 11,698 and 11,510 fires recorded in 2019 and 2018, respectively, for the season.

Coal power plants, idling ships main cause of SO2 spike in Mumbai during lockdown?

Most pollutants in Mumbai’s air fell drastically during the three phases of the COVID-19 lockdown, except the level of sulphur dioxide (SO2), which increased because of coal power plants and shipping industry as possible sources, an analysis of CPCB data revealed. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data, from March 25 to May 18, showed that the levels of five out of six pollutants fell in the past two months compared to pre-lockdown levels.

The average PM2.5 levels reduced from 45 µg/m3 during pre-lockdown to nearly half (22.6 µg/m3) by the third phase. The NO2 levels, emitted from burning coal and oil, fell most drastically from pre-lockdown levels of 37.5 µg/m3 to 9.8 µg/m3 in the third phase.

The levels of SO2, that causes asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, fell from 15.4 µg/m3 pre-lockdown to 12.5 µg/m3 during the first phase, then surged during the second (24.6 µg/m3) and third phases (36.2 µg/m3). Experts said with industrial activity coming to a stop, the possible main SO2 sources were coal-based power plants and idling ships burning heavy fuel oil.

Poisonous heavy metals, hazardous PM2.5 levels in Chhattisgarh districts alarm researchers of new study

A new air quality report of Chhattisgarh’s coal and industrial districts of Korba, Champa and Raipur revealed hazardous levels of PM2.5 (nearly 9 times the national permissible limit) and presence of heavy metals in the air samples, including neurotoxins such as manganese and lead, cancer-causing nickel and crystalline silica, a respiratory irritant, which leads to the fatal disease silicosis on long-term exposure.

The report ’Poison in Air – II’ released by Chhattisgarh’s State Health Resource Centre (SHRC) studied air samples from nine strategic locations: seven sites, including MP Nagar, Chimney Bhatta, Darri, District Hospital and Rani Dhanraj Kumar PHC, were in Korba. Air samples from Maruti Township in Champa and Priyadarshini Nagar in Raipur were also part of the study. 

Major spike in air pollution post lockdown, China vows to extend clampdown

China’s air pollution rose sharply in April after the country lifted restrictions. The study by the Finland-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) shows that within 30 days, (April 12 to May 8) pollution exceeded the levels during the same period last year. The researchers analysed the data from 1,500 air quality monitoring stations to find a spike in particulate matter (PM 10, PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), and ozone during the period. Heavy industrial activity was seen as the main reason behind the spike.

The report said the industrial areas with a large number of factories and coal power plants showed greater increase in NO2 emissions, compared to residential areas where vehicles are the main source of NO2 emissions.

Meanwhile, China vowed to strengthen anti-pollution controls, but warned its energy goals would depend on the impacts of COVID-19. China said it will continue to back less polluting heating systems by replacing coal with gas or electricity, and will impose ultra-low emission standards at more steel mills. The government announced it will allocate 407.3 billion yuan ($57 billion) to environment protection in 2020, up from 390.6 billion yuan last year.

Locked down world cut daily CO2 emissions to 2006 levels in early April: Study

As countries imposed lockdowns, CO2 emissions, each day, fell by average 17% globally and by 26% on average in individual countries, during early April 2020, compared with average 2019 levels, says the latest study. Such low levels were last recorded in 2006, the study says. Depending on the intensity of confinement imposed by various countries, the study estimates a fall of 2,729MtCO2 (7.5%) by the end of 2020. The peer-reviewed research is the first to quantify daily CO2 emissions globally and for 69 countries separately. The researchers said that access to a daily CO2 emissions data would be “incredibly useful” for campaigners and policymakers.

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