25th May 2022

Polish efforts to extend Turów coal license dealt a setback

  • Polska Grupa Energetyczna would have secured a licence extension until 2044 (Photo: Bohdan Melekh)
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On Tuesday (1 January), a Warsaw court ruled that the Polish government acted unlawfully when it speedily adopted an environmental permit to extend the life a controversial open-pit mine bordering Germany and the Czech Republic.

The decision is a win for environmental groups challenging the coal mining project, at Turów, which they say leads to dust pollution and ground-water supply problems for bordering communities.

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"Instead of unlawfully speeding up the investment process in the interest of the coal lobby, the Polish government should set a 2030 coal phase out date," Joanna Flisowska, head of the climate and energy unit at Greenpeace Poland said in response to the ruling.

Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), a state-owned energy utility, would have secured a licence extension until 2044. But the ruling puts a stop to that for the time being.

The government's decision to fast-track the environmental impact assessment had been challenged in court by the NGOs Europe Beyond Coal and Greenpeace, and by the legal firm Frank Bold.

Hubert Smolinski, the lawyer with Frank Bold, described the environmental consultation process for the extension of the mining permit as "a sham" and said in a statement that the Polish decision to immediately enforce the permit had rightly been found illegal.

But Smolinski said the Polish government would "most probably lodge" an appeal.

The Polish government may also seek to influence the Polish general director for environmental protection who is currently reviewing the environmental decision in a separate legal proceeding, Smolinski told EUobserver.

That could mean that Turów still gets its permit after all.

Further lawsuits

The Tuesday ruling is not the only legal challenge facing the Turów mine.

In February 2021, the Czech Republic also filed a complaint at the European Court (CJEU) — a landmark case of litigation involving a member state suing another for environmental reasons.

The CJEU ordered Poland to shut the mine in May 2021 and then imposed a daily fine of €500,000 in September for failing to do so. Warsaw so far has refused to pay.

If the fine is not paid, which is now nearing €70m, it will be deducted from Polish EU funds, the commission said recently after having sent multiple requests for payment since November.

The advocate general of CJEU is expected to give its legal opinion on Thursday.

"The Polish government and PGE are engaging in all sorts of illegal tricks to try to slow the speed of the energy transition. This is saddling Polish taxpayers with millions of euros in fines," said Zala Primc, campaigner at Europe Beyond Coal in a statement.

The Polish government is also pursuing an out-of-court settlement with the Czech Republic but has failed to do so.

Czech environment minister Anna Hubackov had asked for €50m compensation, but Poland was only willing to pay €40m.

The continued deadlock earlier led Miroslaw Jasinski, the Polish ambassador to the Czech Republic, to accuse his own government of showing a "lack of willingness to engage in dialogue."

Shortly afterwards, the country's prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki recalled the ambassador to Warsaw.

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Officials from the Czech Republic and Poland met for the first hearing at the European Court of Justice over the controversial coal mine in Turów - the first time in EU history one state sues another for environmental reasons.

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