Turow Lignite Mine Near Czech Border May Endanger Environment, Says Polish Court

This February, the Polish Environment Ministry authorised the extension of mining in Turow until 2044. Photo credit: Anna Uciechowska, licence CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Warsaw, June 7 (CTK) – The Warsaw Administrative Court has ruled that the operation of the Turow lignite mine near the border with the Czech Republic may endanger the environment, according to reports on Polish server gazeta.pl, citing Law and Justice (PiS) MEP Anna Zalewska, who posted the text of the ruling on Twitter in late May.

According to Agnieszka Stupkiewicz of the Frank Bold legal organisation, the court concluded that it cannot be ruled out that the decision on the environmental impact of lignite mining in Turow will be proven wrong in the future.

Last autumn, the head of the Polish Directorate General for Environmental Protection gave a green light to the extension of the mining operation. The decision was appealed in the Warsaw Administrative Court by the German town of Zittau, the Czech and German branches of Greenpeace and the Frank Bold Foundation, who oppose the continuation of mining, claiming that the activity threatens the environment. The Polish government rejects these accusations and says they are false.

This February, the Polish Environment Ministry authorised the extension of mining in Turow until 27 April 2044. Responding to the court’s ruling yesterday, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki said that Poland will not close the mine, and will do everything to keep it running until 2044. 

If the Warsaw verdict were to come into force, coal mining at Turow would cease after 2026. 

“We will not let the mine close. No court in Brussels will tell us what energy security is,” said Morawiecki during a visit to Turow, quoted by the Polish radio website.

“We will do everything to keep the mine operating until 2044. The mine’s employees provide electricity for the whole region,” he said, further accusing the “pro-German” liberal opposition of intending to close the mine on the basis of the decision, while his government argues it is impossible to comply with a decision that prioritises the interests of other countries over Poland.

Polish radio reported that the Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE) company, which owns the mine and the adjacent power plant, has already announced that it will appeal the court ruling.

Wojciech Ilnicki, the head of the Turow Mine Solidarity trade union, called the court’s decision “scandalous” and added that unionists would protest if necessary. The Turow complex, he said, means “energy security and cheap energy”.

The Polish government insists on continuing mining at the Turow mine, which accounts for about 7% of Poland’s electricity production. The mine is close to the Czech and German borders, and environmentalists and residents of the region say the mining threatens the environment in all three countries, especially destroying the groundwater around the mine. 

Greenpeace’s Anna Meres told the Reuters agency that Turow, like other outdated coal-fired power plants, should be shut down by 2030 at the latest to address the climate crisis.

In February 2021, the Czech Republic took Poland to the EU’s Court of Justice (CJEU) over the Turow expansion. The advocate general upheld the action in February 2022, saying that Poland had violated EU law by failing to assess the mine’s environmental impact. The CJEU ruled in May 2021 that Poland must stop mining immediately. Poland refused, and the CJEU fined it half a million euros a day in September 2021.

Negotiations between Prague and Warsaw eventually led to the signing of a Czech-Polish agreement on 3 February 2022, under which Poland paid the Czech Republic 45 million euros as compensation for damage caused by the mining, and Prague withdrew the lawsuit.

However, according to environmental organisations, the agreement does not protect Czech citizens from the loss of water.

Martin Puta, governor of the Liberec Region most affected by the mining in Turow, said on Tuesday that the Warsaw court’s verdict is unlikely to influence the Czech-Polish agreement.

“I think the only way it would affect the agreement would be if someone revoked the mining permit,” Puta told CTK. “I am glad that the court in Warsaw has recognized that coal mining is not a completely natural human activity and that it has an impact on the environment. We shall see, we probably need to wait and see what it means next.”

He said the Czech side is continuing projects to mitigate the impact of mining. The first construction project to provide drinking water for the Czech border areas is expected to start in June, co-financed by the compensation money paid by the Polish government, through the so-called Turow Fund.

The annual testing of the sealing wall, which is supposed to prevent water from flowing out of the Czech territory, should also be completed by the holidays.

Poland faces parliamentary elections in the autumn, in which the conservative government of the Law and Justice party (PiS) will fight for a third consecutive term.

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