Env ministry’s new deadlines for thermal plants will give them license to pollute indefinitely: CSE

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New Delhi, Apr 7 (PTI) The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on Wednesday said the environment ministry's decision to 'extend' deadlines for thermal power plants (TPPs) to comply with new emission norms “will give them a license to pollute indefinitely”.

Norms to limit pollutants from TPPs were announced in 2015 and were expected to be adopted by 2017. But the industry managed to delay implementation to 2022, it said.

“It is 2021 now: with just a few months to go before the deadline, a mere one-third of the plants have taken any serious steps to comply with the norms,” the green think tank said in a statement.

On April 1, the ministry had issued a notification allowing TPPs within 10 km of the national capital region and in cities with more than 10 lakh population to comply with new emission norms by the end of 2022, according to an official notification.

TPP units in 'non-attainment cities' and those within 10 km of critically-polluted areas are required to meet the emission norms by December 31, 2023.

Coal-fired power plants in the rest of the areas have to comply with the new standards by December 31, 2024, according to the notification.

“The ministry has chosen to extend the deadline further, allowing a majority of the plants to pollute for another three to four years. What makes this a fatally flawed notification is that the deterrence provided in it for non-compliance actually gives the polluters a license to pollute,” said Sunita Narain, the director general of CSE.

It said that six TPPs that were adding to Delhi's air pollution issues are likely to be given a much extended 2024/2025 deadline based on the new categorisation.

A majority of these plants are in Punjab. Earlier, they had to comply with the 2019 deadline.

“The new notification undermines all efforts to 'clean' up dirty coal power plants. It is clear that thermal power sector is a major contributor to India's pollution challenge – from air to water – and this notification nullifies all the work that was being done to improve performance of the sector,” said Nivit Kumar Yadav, programme director, Industrial Pollution Unit, CSE. The environment ministry had revised emission norms for particulate matter (PM), sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen for TPPs in December 2015, requiring them to install emission control systems by December 2017.

The deadline was pushed to December 2022 for all the power stations in the country in view of implementation issues and challenges. However, power stations in the national capital region were required to comply with the revised norms by December 2019.

The power ministry had last year requested the environment ministry to extend the deadline to meet emission norms for all thermal plants from 2022 to 2024, citing delay due to various reasons, including the coronavirus pandemic and import restrictions. Major pollutants from coal-fired power plants are oxides of nitrogen (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM).

According to the CSE, TPPs account for more than 60 per cent of total industrial emissions of particulate matter; 45 per cent of SO2; 30 per cent of NOx; and more than 80 per cent of mercury, in the country.

These are also responsible for 70 per cent of the total freshwater withdrawal by all industries, according to an analysis by the think tank.

A recent compliance report by the CSE showed that out of the 12 power plants located around Delhi, SO2 control technology was available only in two plants. PTI GVS RHL RHL