Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

Poland keeps controversial mine open to 2044 despite lawsuit

  • Both Czech and German local authorities have filed official complaints against Turów to the European Commission, arguing that it damaging water supplies for nearby communities (Photo: Bohdan Melekh)

The Polish government has extended the life of a controversial open-pit coal mine until 2044 - despite it already being in breach of at least two EU laws, according to the European Commission

The mine, in Turów, is currently still operating, one year into the breach.

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The Turów power station is located at the border between Poland, Czech Republic and Germany, and provides around five percent of Poland's power, supplying electricity to some 2.3m households, according to the mine operator, state-owned Polish energy group (PGE).

The announcement to extend its operations comes as the European Court of Justice is set to rule, early in May, on whether to halt the lignite mine as an interim measure - following an unprecedented lawsuit filed by the Czech Republic in February.

Prague is demanding the mine's immediate closure, accusing neighbouring Poland of violating EU law with an earlier extension of mining at Turow until 2026 - granted without a public consultation or an environmental impact assessment.

This lawsuit is the first in the EU's history where one member state sues another for environmental reasons.

However, "it should not require a state-on-state lawsuit to uphold EU laws," according to Kristína Šabová, lawyer at independent legal firm Frank Bold, who said that the commission should have started infringement proceedings more than a year ago.

A study by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air revealed that air-pollutant emissions from the plant and the Turów mine caused an estimated 120 premature deaths in 2017, and 51,000 days of sick leave from work.

Both Czech and German local authorities have filed official complaints against Turów to the European Commission, arguing that it damaging water supplies for nearby communities.

"The task of the European Union is to protect all its citizens, regardless of borders," said Green MEP Mikuláš Peksa.

"The quality of life of Czech and German citizens living near the mine is declining rapidly, and some of them are experiencing soil subsidence and loss of drinking water," he added.

Fellow Green MEP Anna Cavazzini has urged the commission to launch an infringement procedure against Poland.

That appeal was also echoed by a group of 25 NGOs, who called on the EU executive to join the Czech Republic in the lawsuit and hold Polish authorities to account.

"Poland's actions show a total disregard for EU law," said Zala Primc from NGO Europe Beyond Coal.

Coal jobs

PGE has said that the immediate closure of the Turów mine could lead to "a sharp economic collapse" in the province and also shake "the stability of Poland's power system".

The state-owned company has also said that the lawsuit calls into question "key assumptions of the EU's so-called 'just transition' plan".

Poland remains one of the most coal-dependent countries in the EU, employing more than half of the more than 230,000 people working in Europe's coal sector, according to Reuters.

That is why it will receive the largest funding-slice of the €17.5bn Just Transition Fund, with a proposed allocation of €3.5bn.

However, EU regions are expected to demonstrate that they are weaning themselves off coal in order to access these funds.

"The decision by the Polish authorities to extend extraction in Turow until 2044 puts at risk the use of the Just Transition Fund to support the Jelenia Gora sub-region with Turow/Bogatynia of Lower Silesia, where transition is not planned by 2030," a commission spokesperson told EUobserver.

In 2015, the company started the construction of a new power 496 MW unit at the Turow power station, expected to be completed this year.

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