Coal Operations

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The Coal Operations industry includes entities that mine coal and those that manufacture coal products. Mining activity covers both underground and surface mining, and thermal and metallurgical coal.

Relevant Issues (9 of 26)

Why are some issues greyed out? The SASB Standards vary by industry based on the different sustainability-related risks and opportunities within an industry. The issues in grey were not identified during the standard-setting process as the most likely to be useful to investors, so they are not included in the Standard. Over time, as the ISSB continues to receive market feedback, some issues may be added or removed from the Standard. Each company determines which sustainability-related risks and opportunities are relevant to its business. The Standard is designed for the typical company in an industry, but individual companies may choose to report on different sustainability-related risks and opportunities based on their unique business model.

Disclosure Topics

What is the relationship between General Issue Category and Disclosure Topics? The General Issue Category is an industry-agnostic version of the Disclosure Topics that appear in each SASB Standard. Disclosure topics represent the industry-specific impacts of General Issue Categories. The industry-specific Disclosure Topics ensure each SASB Standard is tailored to the industry, while the General Issue Categories enable comparability across industries. For example, Health & Nutrition is a disclosure topic in the Non-Alcoholic Beverages industry, representing an industry-specific measure of the general issue of Customer Welfare. The issue of Customer Welfare, however, manifests as the Counterfeit Drugs disclosure topic in the Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals industry.
General Issue Category
(Industry agnostic)

Disclosure Topics (Industry specific) for: Coal Operations

GHG Emissions
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions

    Coal operations are energy intensive and generate significant direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including carbon dioxide from fuel use and methane released from coal beds during mining and post-mining activities. Regulatory efforts to reduce GHG emissions in response to the risks posed by climate change may result in higher operating and capital expenditures based on the magnitude of their direct emissions. Operational efficiencies can be achieved through the cost-effective reduction of GHG emissions. Such efficiencies can mitigate the potential financial impact of increased fuel costs from regulations that limit—or put a price on—GHG emissions.
Water & Wastewater Management
  • Water Management

    Coal operations have an impact on both the quality and quantity of local water resources. Coal operations are water intensive. The use of water in coal washing to remove sulphur, cool drilling equipment and transport coal in slurry pipelines can impact resources. The severity of these risks can vary depending on the region’s water availability and the regulatory environment. Reducing water use and contamination also could create operational efficiencies for entities and lower their operating costs. Wastewater treatment and discharge often is regulated by jurisdictional authorities. Violating limits on selenium, sulphate and dissolved solids could affect coal operations entities through significant penalties, compliance costs, delays in production or higher costs related to mine closure.
Waste & Hazardous Materials Management
  • Waste Management

    The Coal Operations industry generates large volumes of mineral and non-mineral waste, including process refuse, liquid coal waste, and solid rock and clay waste, which may contain toxic elements such as mercury, arsenic or cadmium. Waste produced during coal mining and processing operations can, depending on its type, be treated, discarded, or stored off- or on-site, in impoundments or disused mine pits. Improper disposal or storage of hazardous materials or mining waste can present significant long-term threats to human health and ecosystems through potential contamination of groundwater or surface water used for drinking or agriculture, posing operational and regulatory challenges for entities. Entities that reduce waste streams, effectively manage risks related to waste containing heavy metals and maintain rigorous hazardous waste disposal practices may reduce regulatory and litigation risks, remediation liabilities and operating costs.
Ecological Impacts
  • Biodiversity Impacts

    Coal operations can have a range of impacts on biodiversity. Surface mining and mountaintop removal can alter the landscape, removing vegetation and wildlife habitats. A particularly concerning effect of coal operations is acid rock drainage, in which surface and shallow subsurface water encounters coal mining overburden, contaminating the water with heavy metals and rendering it highly acidic, with harmful effects on humans, animals and vegetation. Biodiversity impacts of coal operations can affect the valuation of reserves and create operational risks. Because of increasing interest in the protection of ecosystems, the environmental characteristics of the land where reserves are located may lead to higher extraction costs. Entities might also face regulatory or reputational barriers to accessing reserves in ecologically sensitive areas, such as new protection status afforded to areas where reserves are located. Coal operations entities face regulatory risks related to reclamation after a mine is decommissioned, in accordance with applicable regulatory requirements to restore mined property according to a prior, approved reclamation plan. Material costs may arise from removing or covering refuse piles, fulfilling water treatment obligations and dismantling infrastructure at decommissioning. Furthermore, coal operations are subject to laws protecting endangered species. Entities with an effective environmental management plan for each stage of the project lifecycle may minimise their compliance costs and legal liabilities, face less resistance in developing new mines, avert delays in project completion, and avoid difficulties in obtaining permits, accessing reserves and completing projects.
Human Rights & Community Relations
  • Rights of Indigenous Peoples

    Entities in the Coal Operations industry can operate and hold assets in areas occupied by indigenous peoples. Entities perceived as contributing to human rights violations or failing to account for indigenous peoples’ rights may be affected by protests, riots or suspension of permits. These entities could face substantial costs related to compensation or settlement payments, and write-downs in the value of their reserves in such areas. In the absence of applicable jurisdictional laws or regulations to address such cases, several international instruments have emerged to provide guidelines for entities. These instruments include obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples for decisions that affect them. Several countries have implemented specific laws protecting indigenous peoples’ rights, creating increasing regulatory risk for entities that violate those rights.
  • Community Relations

    Coal operations take place over many years and can have a wide range of adverse effects on communities. Community rights and interests may be affected by the environmental and social impacts of operations, air emissions, waste generation, wastewater discharges and decommissioning activities. Entities often need support from local communities to obtain permits and leases and conduct their activities without disruptions. The expected value of reserves could be affected if the community interferes or lobbies its government to interfere with the rights of a coal entity to extract those reserves. In addition to community concerns about the direct impacts of projects, the presence of coal mining activities may create associated socioeconomic concerns related to education, health and livelihoods. Coal entities that engage in rent-seeking and exploiting a community’s resources without providing proportional socioeconomic benefits in return may be exposed to actions by host governments and communities that restrict their activities or impose additional costs. Entities in the extractives industries can adopt various community engagement strategies in their global operations to manage risks and opportunities associated with community rights and interests, such as integrating community engagement into each phase of the project cycle. Entities that adopt a ‘shared value’ approach may be able to provide significant socioeconomic benefits to communities and allow them to operate profitably.
Labour Practices
  • Labour Relations

    Working conditions related to coal operations are usually physically demanding and hazardous. Labour unions play an important role in representing workers’ interests and managing collective bargaining for better wages and working conditions. This makes the management of labour relations critical, since conflict with workers can result in labour strikes and other disruptions that can delay or stop production, leading to lost revenue and reputational damage. Persistent labour disputes can adversely affect the long-term profitability of the entity.
Employee Health & Safety
  • Workforce Health & Safety

    Safety is critical to coal mining operations because of the hazardous working conditions involved. Fatalities and injuries can result from the many hazards associated with the industry, including accidents, cave-ins, explosions and flooding. Because of these hazards, the industry is characterised by higher-than-average mortality and injury rates. Coal miners are also susceptible to long-term health risks such as chronic lung disease as well as mental health problems. Some jurisdictional health and safety laws protect coal mining workers and may provide compensation for work-related chronic illnesses that can impose additional costs on entities or result in regulatory penalties. An entity’s ability to protect employee health and safety, and to create a culture of safety and well-being among employees, may prevent accidents, mitigate costs, reduce operational downtime and enhance workforce productivity.
Business Model Resilience
  • Reserves Valuation & Capital Expenditures

    Coal entities may be unable to extract a significant proportion of their coal reserves if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are controlled to limit global temperature increases. Stewardship of capital resources while considering medium- to long-term trends, particularly related to climate change mitigation actions, is critical to prevent asset impairment and maintain profitability and creditworthiness. Globally, regulations and policies are and may continue to be put into place to limit GHG emissions from coal-fired power plants—the customers of coal entities—thus reducing demand for and the price of coal. Coal demand also is being affected by regulations governing other harmful air emissions that apply to coal-fired power plants. An expansion of GHG-mitigation regulations may increase the magnitude of potential financial impacts in the medium to long term. Along with improved competitiveness of alternative energy technologies, these jurisdictional regulations and policies pose long-term risks for the reserves and capital investments of coal operations entities.
Critical Incident Risk Management
  • Tailings Storage Facilities Management

    Coal waste impoundments or fine coal refuse ponds, also called tailings storage facilities (TSFs), can leak and contaminate water supplies if mismanaged, potentially leading to adverse impacts on the environment and human health. These impacts may carry financial implications such as regulatory penalties, compensation payments, and remediation or compliance obligations. Entities’ ability to reduce the number and size of fine coal refuse ponds and ensure the structural integrity of impoundments can minimise such impacts. A catastrophic failure of such facilities (for example, a dam failure) could still release significant volumes of waste and materials that are harmful to the environment, leading to severe impacts on ecosystems, human livelihood, and local economies and communities. Such catastrophic incidents may result in significant financial losses for entities and may impair their social licence to operate. Robust processes and approaches to tailings facility design, management, operation and closure, as well as appropriate management of associated risks, can help prevent such incidents from occurring. Entities that adopt robust practices to maintain the safety of TSFs may do so through ensuring accountability for tailings management at the highest levels of the entity, conducting frequent internal and external independent technical reviews of TSFs, and ensuring mitigation measures are implemented in a timely manner in case of a safety concern. Additionally, a strong safety culture and well-established emergency preparedness and response plans can mitigate the impacts and financial implications of such events. Entity obligations related to long-term remediation and compensation for damages may result in additional financial effects in case of failure. An entity’s ability to meet such obligations after an incident has occurred is an additional component of emergency preparedness.

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