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What’s it worth? For as little as Rs. 2,000 a day, villagers in Meghalaya are risking their lives in extracting coal from rat-hole mines. | Image credit: NorthEastToday(dot)in

Rat hole mining for coal has the poor risking their lives to earn a living

Twenty-nine days on, there is no trace of 15 miners yet, trapped in a 370 feet-deep, illegal rat-hole coal mine in the northeastern state of Meghalaya after it was flooded by the river nearby. This is the second such tragedy in the state, after 15 miners died in a similar incident in 2012. Most of these miners are young men from poor families, who are lured in by the comparatively higher daily wage of Rs 2,000.

The state has continued to allow the rat-hole mines (unique to Meghalaya) to function, even after National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned them in 2014. The Chief Minister of the state has admitted that his government was aware of the clandestine mining rampant in his state, but he says a ban is not the solution, as the mines are vital for the region’s economy; Meghalaya has 576 million tonnes of coal.

However, analysts say, the Centre and the state government have done nothing to either improve the working conditions of the miners (many of them children) or provide alternative employment opportunities – despite the fact that Meghalaya extracted coal worth over ₹3,078 crore four years ago. However, a report to the NGT has slammed rat hole mining for its rampant violation of labour laws and its environmental impact.

There has also been pitiable coverage of the situation in India, despite global media frenzy just weeks back over a similar situation – where 12 Thai boys were trapped in a flooded cave for 17 days.

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He has also warned that the Rs. 4-5cr/MW of investments in the country’s 25GW of gas-fired plants will most likely have to be written off as there was little scope of returning any profits from these projects – several of which have experienced a 50-75% cost escalation in gas prices. The comments come even as India is planning to double its use of natural gas by 2022 by constructing 15 new import terminals and building a city gas distribution network.

US emissions grew 3.8% in 2018 despite coal plant shutdowns

A new study by the Rhodium Group has found that US emissions shot up by 3.8% in 2018 – primarily on the back of increased emissions by its planes, trucks and major industrial sectors, including steel and cement factories.The findings are even more worrying because demand for coal power in the US at its lowest for several decades, and the country shut down 16GW of coal plants in 2018. Nevertheless, US’ emissions have dropped 11% over 2005 levels, but are nowhere near its (now non-existent) commitment to the Paris Agreement of a 26-28% reduction by 2025.

EPA proposes relaxed mercury emission standards for US coal plants

The EPA has proposed that US coal plants be allowed to disregard Obama-era regulations on curbing their mercury emissions by up to 90% and to continue emitting the known neurotoxin.

The rollback has been heavily criticized as the EPA’s own analyses shows that limiting Mercury emissions (along with other airborne toxins) would prevent 11,000 deaths each year. It would also save $4 in public health costs for every $1 spent on complying with the existing Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. Several coal plants – that have already installed costly equipment to comply with the order – have opposed the proposal.

Spain to shutter 26 coalmines in 2019

Spain’s coal phaseout is gathering pace after it announced it will shutter operations at 26 of its coal mines in 2019. The country has also reduced its share of coal-fired power from about 16.5% in 2017 to 14% in 2018, but it will continue to import approximately 90% of its coal consumption – primarily from Columbia and Russia.

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