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Coal and Corruption

VANCOUVER – Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso, one of the founders of OPEC, once compared the world’s fossil-fuel use to “drowning in the devil’s excrement.” There is certainly plenty of evidence supporting his prediction that the fossil-fuel industry, with its powerful corrupting influence, will “bring us ruin.” Indeed, coal-related corruption stories are breaking worldwide, shining a light on the murky space between “illegal” and “improper” where the extractive industries work.

Last year, in the Australian state of New South Wales, the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated former Labor ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald for conspiring to defraud the state over the issuance of multi-million-dollar licenses for coal exploration and mining. Today, the ICAC is conducting an even more far-reaching and complex investigation into a number of figures from the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal/Nationals Coalition, including for favoring the interests of Australian Water Holdings, a major infrastructure company.

Last month, India’s Supreme Court found that all 218 coal-mining licenses allocated by the government in 1993-2009 had been granted in an “illegal and arbitrary” manner, with the committee responsible for the process lacking transparency and rife with corruption. Following the landmark decision, the government has canceled 214 of the coal block allocations – and has fined several companies that have already begun production.

For its part, Indonesia is set to revoke the contracts of 17 coal producers that failed to pay government royalties. And, since the beginning of this year, the country’s corruption commission has been focusing on the extractive industry, including the state officials who facilitate mining companies’ illegal activities.