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25th May 2022

Poland to pay Czech Republic €45m in coal mine settlement

  • Czech authorities filed an official complaint against Poland over Turów, arguing that it is damaging water supplies for nearby communities (Photo: Bohdan Melekh)
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Poland and the Czech Republic on Thursday (4 February) tamped down their dispute over the environmental impact of a coal mine close to the Czech border.

The Polish government agreed to pay the Czech government €45m in exchange for withdrawing a lawsuit brought by Prague against Warsaw at the Court of Justice of the European Union.

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  • The Turów power station is located at the border between Poland, Czech Republic and Germany (Photo: Europe Beyond Coal)

Under the deal, €35m will be used to analyse and monitor the effects of the mine while the state-owned Polish energy group (PGE) will pay €10m directly to the affected region.

The settlement also involves the building and testing of an underground wall to protect Czech villages from the effects of the mine.

But local civil society and green groups slammed Prague's acceptance of the deal, saying there was a risk it would not address all of the groundwater supply problems around the mine, at Turów.

"It's a shame that the Czech government is unprepared to stand firm on its citizens' rights," said Zala Primc from the environmental campaign group Europe Beyond Coal.

Underlying the sensitivity of the issues around Turów is Poland's continued dependence on coal. The mine operator, PGE, says the power station supplied by the mine provides around five percent of Poland's power and supplies some 2.3m households.

Prague filed the complaint at the European court against Poland for extending the life of the open-pit coal mine. The Czech government demanded the pit's immediate closure on the basis that nearby communities were suffering from water supply problems.

News of the settlement came a few hours after an advisor to the European court issued an opinion in the case stating that Poland had violated EU law by extending the life of the coal mine until 2026 without carrying out an environmental impact assessment.

"Mining activities taking place over a surface area similar to that of the Turów mine present, by their nature, a risk of notable environmental effects and must necessarily be subject to an assessment of their environmental effects," wrote one of the court's advocate generals.

Advocate generals' opinions aren't final but they are broadly followed by the court in the majority of cases.

The saga over the mine has gone through different phases.

In September, the EU top court ordered Poland to pay a €500,000-per-day fine for failing to temporarily suspend extraction activities of the Turów mine. That order was the result of interim measures imposed by EU judges due to the environmental urgency.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki had said that shutting down the mine would cost hundreds of jobs and cause disruption of domestic power - and Warsaw has refused to pay the penalties.

The European Commission is currently preparing to withhold some €15m in budget payments to Poland and will deduct more if Poland keeps missing calls for payment deadlines.

Taking into account the total period of non-compliance, Poland could face up to €68m in penalties, according to estimates from Europe Beyond Coal.

The Polish government wants to keep Turów open until 2044, putting at risk EU funds to compensate for climate policies to the coal region of Bogatynia.

In 2020, there were 166 coal-fired power plants operating in more than half of EU countries. Despite its sharp decline across Europe, it still accounts for 15 percent of the energy consumption in the 27-nation bloc.

The EU's most polluting coal plants are in Poland and Germany.

The Polish coal-fired power plant in Bełchatów is the largest carbon emitter in Europe, and the government has committed to its closure by 2036.

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