21 May 2021

European Court of Justice orders halt to operations at controversial Polish mine

LUXEMBOURG, 21 May 2021 – The European Court of Justice has ruled that mining at Poland’s sprawling Turów coal mine must cease while the court processes a Czech government lawsuit against Poland for illegally operating the mine. The Polish mine pushes right up to the Czech and German borders and is depleting people’s water supplies and undercutting houses in nearby communities. 

The Czech Republic filed the lawsuit in response to Poland’s decision to grant Turów a licence extension to 2026, and PGE’s request for a further licence extension to 2044, which was subsequently approved by the Polish government despite the absence of a proper public consultation or environmental impact assessment as required by EU law [1]. The mine is located in Poland’s Bogatynia region and is endangering access to safe drinking water for thousands of families on the Czech side of the border and causing subsidence that could damage houses around the German city of Zittau [2]. PGE plans to extend the mine to within 70 metres of the Czech border in 2022. 

“The licence for Turów was prolonged illegally, and has emboldened PGE to such an extent that it thinks it can ram through a second licence extension for Turów to 2044 without even stopping to answer for its previous transgressions,” said Petra Urbanová, Lawyer at Frank Bold. “This ruling shows that the European Court of Justice has no intention of playing along with PGE’s games. The court has rightly acted to prevent a further escalation of the crisis while the Czech Republic’s case is heard. We expect the court to take the same firm approach when it delivers its final ruling.”

In a further twist to the Turów crisis, the European Commission has confirmed that Poland’s Bogatynia region will miss out on EU Just Transition Funds because the Polish government has extended the license for Turów mine beyond 2030 [3]. Poland is banking on being the biggest beneficiary of the 17.5 billion euro EU Just Transition Fund [4], but Polish coal communities risk missing out on these vital funds if PGE and the Polish government refuse to plan to exit coal. 

“The court’s ruling must be a wake-up call: the European Commission needs to use its power to persuade Poland to respect EU laws, phase out coal, and ensure a just transition for coal regions and communities. They cannot let impacted communities in Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany pay the price for their inaction” said Riccardo Nigro, campaign coordinator on coal combustion and mines at the European Environmental Bureau.

“This ruling is a welcome reprieve for people living on the front line of this crisis, who have been forced to live with the mine gulping their drinking water and undercutting their houses. The message for polluters like PGE is clear: the rules are the same for everyone, and they are there to protect everyone. There are no exceptions,” said Kathrin Gutmann, Europe Beyond Coal campaign director.

 

Contacts:

Petra Urbanová, Lawyer, Frank Bold (English, Czech)
[email protected], +420 778 777 164

Riccardo Nigro, Campaign Coordinator on coal combustion and mines, European Environmental Bureau (English, Italian)
[email protected], +32 473 26 38 83

Kathrin Gutmann, Campaign Director, Europe Beyond Coal (German, English)
[email protected], + 49 (0) 1577 836 3036

Alastair Clewer, Communications Officer, Europe Beyond Coal (English)
[email protected], +49 176 433 07 185

 

Notes:

  1. The alleged infringements concern the processes for applying for both the 2026 and 2044 license extensions. PGE’s 2044 prolongation application is now in the third and final stage. The previous two stages form part of the Czech complaint to the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union. The final decision from the Polish government on a possible 2044 license extension for Turów is expected by the end of April 2021.
    https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_20_2452
  2. Expert report on the cross-border effects of the continuation of lignite mining in Turów (Poland) on water in Germany, Dr. habil. Ralf E. Krupp, 2020: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qXe951xtCoYb29-qk9dOTSpwwZosl2vG/view?usp=sharing
  3. The European Commission’s position in relation to the Bogatynia region’s case: https://zpravy.aktualne.cz/zahranici/cast-polska-nema-narok-na-zelene-miliardy-z-eu-zni-z-bruselu/r~2a386ef0b97e11eb99faac1f6b220ee8/
  4. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-climate-change-eu-justtransition/eu-countries-approve-green-transition-fund-look-to-challenges-ahead-idUKKCN2AV2D0
  5. Preliminary decision by the EU Court of Justice: https://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2021-05/cp210089en.pdf
  6. No EU country has ever sued another member state over breaches of environmental laws before.
  7. The Czech government requested a court injunction on operations at the mine when it filed its lawsuit. 

About: 

Europe Beyond Coal is an alliance of civil society groups working to catalyse the closures of coal mines and power plants, prevent the building of any new coal projects and hasten the just transition to clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Our groups are devoting their time, energy and resources to this independent campaign to make Europe coal free by 2030 or sooner. www.beyond-coal.eu

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