India | Regulatory blackhole in the implementation of emission norms for thermal power plants

A report by Healthy Energy Initiative – India reveals that two Thermal Power Plants (TPPs) in the Ennore thermal cluster in Tamilnadu was found violating the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) prescribed norms up to 53% of the total operational time in two years, between 2019-2020.

In March 2021, just as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic was surging in the country, the MOEFCC issued a notification extending the deadline to meet the 2015 emission norms for thermal power plants until 2024. Zero action to meet the new norms has led to industries violating with impunity over the last 6 years – affecting the environment and the health of the people around the power plants reveals the new report.

Fossil fuel-related emissions is said to have contributed up to 22% of COVID-19 mortality in South Asia. Several other studies have concluded that air pollution is an important cofactor increasing the risk of mortality from COVID-19. Chennai is one of the COVID-19 hotspots in south India, with more than 300,000 cases recorded till May 2021. Ennore thermal cluster has thermal power plants with a total installed capacity of 3,300 MW, fly ash ponds and coal handling yards, and two coal handling ports located in the vicinity of Chennai. They contribute significantly to the poor air quality in the region. In addition to the existing TPPs, new units adding an additional 2,780 MW are under various stages of construction.

Perusal of data recorded by the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board reveals that despite the technology in place, the instances of “no data availability” indicated a laid back approach in discharging duty and a lack of political will to monitor, contrary to the spirit of the law. “Non-availability of data is not only a statutory violation, it is also a regulatory roadblock in holding polluting industries accountable. Gross number of violations in the periods that had records for stack emissions show that the TPPs were offenders who repeatedly violated prescribed norms, with no consequence from regulatory authority. This violates the spirit of the law and results in unchecked air pollution from fossil fuel emissions that greatly impacts the environment, has big climate consequences and degrades public health” says Pooja Kumar, Researcher with Healthy Energy Initiative – India.

“Prolonged exposure to fossil fuel emissions and particulate matter is known to cause cardiovascular diseases, cardiac arrest, lung cancer, premature death in people with heart or lung disease, decreases lung function and increases respiratory symptoms among people. TPPs are a major contributor to air pollution and thereby accelerates climate change. The outbreak of COVID is just the tip of an iceberg. If we fail to address the underlying issues of air pollution and climate change, we will be slammed with many such infectious disease outbreaks in future. Regulatory authorities should immediately implement stringent norms to control the pollution from TPPs”, says Dr. Vishvaja Sambath, author of the report.

Download the report

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