A Chinese-backed coal-fired power plant in Bangladesh that’s been the site of deadly crackdowns on protests has now been accused of failing to ensure proper environmental inspections. The Environmental Impact Assessment on S. Alam Group’s coal plant in Chattogram omitted the potential impacts of mercury and some air pollutants and made misleading claims about the baseline air quality in the area, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. The Helsinki-based group said in a press release that it obtained the information from a publicly unavailable document provided by an unnamed government source.
“Bangladesh lacks meaningful environmental regulation, as do many other countries hosting China-backed energy projects,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at CREA and author of the report. “Yet the Chinese government and state-owned financiers have failed to put in place environmental and social safeguards that would prevent project developers from exploiting weak or non-existent regulator oversight.”
The Bangladesh government approved the project following the country’s standards, said Mohammad Hossain, director general of Power Cell, the nation’s power industry regulator. “If there’s any new complaint about air-quality standards, we will surely look into it,” Hossain said in response to the allegations. “We haven’t received any complaint through the official channel.”
Shangdong Electric Power Construction Corp., which has a 20% stake, didn’t respond to an emailed request for comments. Bank of China and China Development Bank, part of a consortium of Chinese banks that provided a $1.8 billion loan for the project, also didn’t respond to emailed questions.
The project includes two 660-megawatt coal-fired steam generators in Banshkhali, south of the nation’s largest port, Chattogram (formerly Chittagong). During protests in 2016, before construction began, four demonstrators were shot and killed in a clash with police.
In April, workers began demanding back pay, a salary increase and half days of work on Fridays in negotiations with management. The protest quickly escalated into violence, with police shooting and killing at least five people. A Bangladesh court in May ordered S. Alam to pay 500,000 taka ($5,896) in initial compensation to the families of each of the dead workers.
The environmental assessment, which covers the first unit at the plant, says air quality around the site met national standards, allowing it to avoid more stringent environmental rules, CREA said. But samples taken for the assessment show pollutants exceeded those standards in every measure, the group said.
The plant will emit five times the level of sulfur dioxide and 10 times as much nitrous oxide as would be allowed in China, according to CREA.