MAC: Mines and Communities

Poland's border coalmine startles Europe

Published by MAC on 2021-05-05
Source: Eureporter, Reuters,,

Czech government is demanding the mine's immediate closure.

While Poland’s climate ministry extended the concession for the Turow open-pit coal mine until 2044, the European Court of Justice is set to rule this week on whether to halt the lignite mine - 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 until 2026 without an environmental impact assessment nor public consultation.

A group of 25 NGOs called on the EU to join the Czech Republic in the lawsuit and hold Polish authorities to account. "May 1st 2021 marks the first anniversary of the starting of illegal mining operations at the Turów coal mine" the group's letter to Ms. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission stated.

The Turów mine has been in operation for nearly 100 years outside Bogatynia in Lower Silesia. The Turów power station provides around five percent of Poland's power, supplying electricity to some 2.3m households, according to state-owned mine operator Polish Energy Group (PGE).

See also:

2018-12-17 'Coal' climate conference closes with a plan ...

2013-03-11 Coal wars heat up in Poland, EU, China and New York

2012-09-24 Polish ministries clash over the "green" and the black

Unhappy anniversary: One year of illegal mining in Turów
At the crossroad of Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, the controversial Turów mine has operated illegally for an entire year. To mark this unhappy anniversary, campaigners delivered a Turów-themed cake to the European Commission to highlight its inaction, Roberta Arbinolo reports.
Roberta Arbinolo

May 6, 2021

The cake delivery was staged by the European Environmental Bureau and German and Czech members of the European Parliament Anna Cavazzini and Mikuláš Peksa, who reminded the European Commission of its responsibility to enforce EU laws and put an end to illegal coal operations in Turów.
Situated in a strip of Polish land squeezed between the German and Czech borders, the Turów mine is an environmental catastrophe in the making. Its massive water consumption, about 40 litres per second, is draining the groundwaters of the whole region, depleting water supplies and causing land subsidence across the borders, in breach of EU laws. As a result, entire villages in the Czech region of Liberec are losing access to water, while the German city of Zittau is caving in.
Thirsty for justice

Determined to defend their right to water and safe houses, local communities and authorities in the Czech Republic and Germany have filed complaints with the European Commission, which acknowledged the violation of EU laws but has so far failed to act.

Back in February, with an unprecedented move, the Czech government took Poland to the European Court of Justice over the illegal operations in Turów. This is the first such legal case for the Czech Republic, and the first in the EU’s history where one member state sues another for environmental reasons. The Court’s verdict is now expected at any time.

Also on the occasion of the first anniversary, 25 NGOs wrote to the European Commission urging the EU executive to intervene, hold Polish authorities accountable, and initiate an infringement procedure against Poland.

Kristína Šabová, a lawyer at EEB member organisation Frank Bold, told META: “The European Commission should have started infringement proceedings more than a year ago, but its failure has left Czech people suffering a further eight-metre drop in their groundwater levels. It shouldn’t require a state-on-state lawsuit to uphold EU laws. EU citizens need to have confidence in the system, which ensures their equal rights and can prevent conflicts between member states.”

Adding insult to injury

The dispute over the legality of Turów’s operations relates to the Polish government’s decisions to grant state-owned coal company PGE a licence extension to mine until 2026 without first having carried out a public consultation or an environmental impact assessment, as required by EU legislation.

To make matters worse, on 28 April 2021, Poland approved a 23-year extension to the licence, allowing PGE to keep operating until 2044, despite Czech, German and Polish stakeholders raising serious concerns about the environmental impact assessment for this second extension.

At the same time, PGE has embarked on a widespread counter-campaign in Brussels and Prague, blaming the communities and authorities who are challenging the mine for wanting to take away livelihoods from local coal workers and their children.
Casting shadows over a just transition

If Czech and German communities across the border are currently paying the price of PGE’s transnational water grab, the Polish government’s clinging to Turow’s lignite risks exacting a high cost for local coal communities too.

Poland is set to receive the lion’s share of the EU’s €17.5-billion Just Transition Fund, which aims to support workers and regions on the path towards clean energy. In the Polish region of Bogatynia region, where the Turów mine is located, regional authorities are openly counting on receiving Just Transition money. However, PGE’s plan to extend Turów’s operations could cause the region to miss out on the funding.

According to EU regulation, the Fund will only support regions that have set out key transition steps away from fossil fuel and carbon-based industries in their territorial just transition plans. This is not currently the case for Bogatynia, as a European Commission spokesperson recently reiterated at a press briefing.

The Just Transition Fund Regulation also says that member states that do not commit to the climate-neutrality target, such as Poland, will only have access to 50% of their allocation. This means that the Polish government risks losing access to almost €2 billions.

“The European Commission’s inaction on the Turów case is not only letting PGE deprive Czech, and German citizens of their basic rights, such as access to water and a safe home, but also compromising Polish coal communities’ access to vital transition funds. It’s time for the Commission to hold Poland accountable,” said EEB coal campaign coordinator Riccardo Nigro.

The Polish government needs to read the room, stop clinging to a redundant, illegal mine, and help protect and transition all communities around Turow to a fairer and cleaner future.”

Poland keeps controversial mine open to 2044 despite lawsuit

Elena Sánchez Nicolás

May 3, 2021

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.

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.

Unjust and environmentally damaging Turów mining licence prolonged until 2044

The European Commission needs to be more engaged in environmental disputes between EU countries, like the escalating tensions between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic over the disputed open-pit mine in Turów, Poland.

Martin Hojsik

May 3, 2021

As an MEP coming from a Central European country with communist history, there are some features of the EU, which are particularly important to me. Stronger environmental laws and public participation were not commonplace in my homeland. Membership of the European Union did help to improve it significantly.

Nevertheless, people dealing with environmental protection or trying to effectively participate in decision making in Central Europe could tell the long stories illustrating how hard it is even today to ensure these principles are respected and followed.

The European Commission is often the last hope for people fighting against breaches of law at the system level to ensure nature or health protection, justice and remedies. These fights are even more intricate when it comes to projects and decisions at the national level with the cross-boundary effects.

Over the last year and a half, I have been involved in one particular example of such a fight, which grew into an unprecedented cross border conflict between the member states and ultimately to a lawsuit.

The dispute around the open pit Turów lignite mine and its operation on the borders of Poland, Czechia and Germany is a perfect example of when we urgently need the Commission to act. Unfortunately, it is not really happening.

It is one year since the licence for the Turów mine expired and since the Polish authorities gave the operation special prolongation for six years. Neither the opposition from local citizens and municipalities suffering from the mining activities nor the petition and complaint to the European Commission did help to end them.

Another year of injustice and continuing environmental damage resulted in the Czech government losing patience and taking Poland to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The case is unprecedented; it is the first time one member state sues another for environmental reasons. What is more, at the beginning of this year, representatives from Zittau, a town in the German region of Saxony, filed another complaint to the Commission.

Meanwhile, the Polish authorities continued as if nothing was happening and now they prolonged the concession until 2044. To add to the ignorance of Rule of Law, Science and Climate Emergency they triggered an advertising campaign in the streets of Brussels in support of Turów. With a picture of a young girl.

People neighbouring the mine are desperately fighting for a healthier environment, for sources of water they lose every day, for protection against landslide effects on their houses – the impacts of the coal mine, which will only grow bigger in the future. They ask the Commission to act, but with little results. The only result is an escalation of tension in the region.

I believe this is one of the most important jobs of the Commission – to watch over and uphold the rule of law. To help to decide where the lawful process lays. It would be unfair to say that the Commission did not act at all.

It did start a pilot process, arranged several mediation meetings and, at the end of the year, published a reasoned opinion, which was important for the Czech Republic to bring the case to the Court.

However, from my point of view, it was not enough. We should not observe one member state suing another when other and more effective measures are in place, including the infringement process.

It is not time for declarations and long discussions about climate and environmental crises and to implement the European Green Deal. It’s time to act.

To be successful on our journey, we need the Europeans to see the clear and just path towards a better future. We cannot talk on the one hand about climate change and, on the other, leave the member states to fight against projects, which cause the very problem.

If we want the Europeans to trust the European institutions and politicians, we need to be consistent and truthful. This is also true for the European Commission, whose role is to be active in member states disputes, not leaving it on their shoulders and on the shoulders of the citizens alone.

Poland prolongs Turow mine life despite international outcry

April 29, 2021

Poland’s climate ministry has extended a mining concession for the open-pit coal mine in Turow until 2044, outraging environmental campaigners, who said the move would worsen the climate crisis.

The decision comes as the Court of Justice of the European Union is poised to decide in early May whether the mine, located near the Czech and German borders, must close immediately, following a lawsuit filed by the Czech Republic in February.

The Czech Republic said Warsaw had violated the bloc’s law with an earlier extension of mining at Turow until 2026. Meanwhile, Czech residents close to the mine say it has contaminated drinking water and they have suffered from noise, dust and subsidence.

“Extending the concession means a further deepening of the climate crisis,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

“Poland’s actions show a total disregard for EU law,” Zala Primc, campaigner at Europe Beyond Coal, said.

The climate ministry said its decision was in the public interest as Turow supplies lignite, or brown coal, to a nearby electricity plant, which provides around 5% of Poland’s power, the owner, state-run energy group PGE, says.

PGE has said a sudden closure of Turow, which together with the power plant is a major employer, could lead to economic collapse in the province and shake “the stability of Poland’s power system”.

The company, which plans a new 496 MW unit at the Turow power station, said it hasbegun work to reduce dust and noise.

EU countries have agreed to cut their combined net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. Poland, which generates around 70% of its electricity from coal, was the only EU country that did not commit to the goal when the bloc set it in 2019. (Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Additional reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels; editing by Barbara Lewis)

'It's hard, we're neighbours': the coalmine polluting friendships on Poland's borders

Czechs and Germans who live in the shadow of the vast Turów mine claim it is an environmental menace. Some in Poland want to weaponise its defence.

Pawel Wiejski

29 Mar 2021

When the Czech government announced it was taking Poland to Europe’s highest court it came as a surprise to Warsaw. After all, EU countries rarely sue one another. Prague’s demand is a politically explosive one. Not only is it challenging the extension of mining activity at Turów, a vast lignite mine that has been in operation for nearly 100 years, it also wants the European court of justice to order its immediate closure.

Sandwiched between Germany and the Czech Republic in the Silesia region of south-west Poland, the open-pit mine is depleting the groundwater supplies of its neighbours and violates EU environmental law, the Czech government alleges. On the Czech and German sides of the border, communities blame Turów for draining their water and causing dangerous levels of air and noise pollution.

The Polish government vigorously disputes the environmental claims. Government officials in Warsaw and the state-owned utility company PGE, which owns Turów, also maintain they have been in regular consultation with Prague and that there was no reason to escalate the dispute.

But some on the Polish side concede that the souring of the relationship has as much to do with a communications breakdown as with the mine.

“We got what we asked for. It’s a little bit our fault,” said Magdalena KoÅ›ciaÅ„ska, a TV journalist in the Polish city of Bogatynia, close to the mine. For the past 16 years KoÅ›ciaÅ„ska has been covering local news in her community, and has never before seen such levels of abuse directed towards Czechs by fellow residents of Bogatynia, both online and offline. A Hands off Turów Facebook page has appeared where news of the lawsuit triggered an outpouring of insults about Czech nationals. “It’s very hard and sad. We are neighbours, we like each other, we have friends among the Czechs and Germans,” she said. 

In addition to the lawsuit, the Czech government has applied to the European court for an injunction that would bring an immediate halt to mining in Turów. For citizens of Bogatynia, overnight closure would spell disaster.

“The consequences would be dramatic. We cannot even imagine that”, the acting mayor of Bogatynia, Wojciech DobroÅ‚owicz, said. Closing the mine would leave thousands of people in the region out of jobs and halve Bogatynia’s budget.

For more than a century, the region has been economically reliant on the coalmine even if the size of the workforce at the complex, which includes a coal-fired electricity plant, has fallen in recent years to about 3,600 employees. The concession for the mine expires in 2026, but its operator has filed for a new concession to run for as long as Turów’s coal deposit lasts, which is forecast to be 2044.

“Even the prospect of 2044 is scary for us. It doesn’t even give us 50 years, which would be enough to conduct a transition that would be full, safe and without negative consequences for the region,” DobroÅ‚owicz said.

Economic forces mean the writing is on the wall for Turów much sooner, some analysts believe. “The whole complex will no longer be viable in less than 10 years,” said Robert Tomaszewski, an energy analyst at Polityka Insight in Warsaw.

The EU’s commitment to reducing CO2 emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and to carbon-neutrality by 2050 makes it imperative to ditch coal for cleaner alternatives.

In the short term coal also faces growing pressure from skyrocketing prices on the European carbon emissions trading market, which in recent weeks exceeded €40 per tonne of CO2.

The EU forces big polluters to compensate for their emissions by buying permits under the scheme. In 2019, lignite burned at Turów’s electricity plant pumped 5.5m tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, making it the fifth largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Poland.

EU state aid rules, meanwhile, limit Warsaw’s scope to provide support to struggling coal plants, so the decline of the plant seems inevitable.

But this reality has not hit home in Bogatynia. “I don’t know a single person who suggests closing the complex in 10 years,” said KoÅ›ciaÅ„ska, adding that it was difficult for her to imagine the mine closing sooner than in 15 years’ time.

The story of Turów is hardly unique. Coal still generates most of Poland’s energy and many of its towns and regions rely on coal-heavy industries that EU climate policy will make obsolete. But it illustrates a wider political dilemma.

The transition away from coal is accepted by Polish society as a whole – 78% of Poles agree that the climate crisis requires urgent action. Many communities, however, are fearful for their future prospects without coal. And some politicians are only too happy to exploit those fears.

The Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, reluctantly signed up to higher emissions reduction goals at a European council meeting in December 2020, but his junior coalition partner – Solidarity Poland (SP) – dismissed the new targets and publicly accused Morawiecki of “defeatism”.

The SP’s firebrand deputy minister Janusz Kowalski toured Poland and met miners’ unions in Turów and other places, promising to fight the EU’s green plans. Kowalski lost his ministerial post in February, but that did not end the tensions in government. According to Tomaszewski, the rift will only grow bigger, as the government faces a string of unpopular decisions, from closing mines to announcing higher energy prices due to rising emissions costs. “The green transition is a perfect issue to be weaponised by populists,” he said.

The SP controls only 19 seats in the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, but these MPs punch far above their weight, knowing that their exit from the coalition would deprive Morawiecki’s government of its majority. That in turn would force the PM’s Law and Justice party to seek allies among opposition MPs or face early elections.

At the same time, the government cannot just give in to the SP’s demands and abandon its green commitments altogether. Poland is set to receive more than €139bn from the EU over the next seven years in exchange for reducing emissions. CO2 prices will continue to rise, pushing coal out of the market regardless of decisions made in Warsaw.

The pressure from Poland’s neighbours over Turów, meanwhile, is growing. The German town of Zittau, which borders the mine region, launched its own complaint with the European commission in January. A study commissioned by the German branch of Greenpeace said continued operation of the mine threatened groundwater depletion, air and water pollution and subsidence.

The German Green MEP Anna Cavazzini has called on the government in Berlin to support the Czech lawsuit on the basis that the impact on the lives of communities in Saxony is “catastrophic”.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Morawiecki’s government is likely to put decisions on Poland’s energy transition on the backburner where possible. This approach leaves people in places such as Turów even more vulnerable. When the time to ditch coal for good eventually comes, locals will not be ready, campaigners say. For anti-green parties such as the SP, that may be the time to shine.

Turów opencast mine: City of Zittau files a complaint with the European Commission for non-compliance with EU law

EU Reporter Correspondent

January 25, 2021

Little has happened since Zittau filed an objection to the continuation of the Turów opencast mine in March 2020 and the scientific study by geologist Dr. habil. Ralf E. Krupp was presented at a press conference in the Citizens' Hall of the Zittau City Hall. The study revealed that a continuation of the Turów (PL) open-cast mine in its planned form could have a significantly greater impact on life in the city of Zittau than has previously been shown by the operating company. Mayor Thomas Zenker had the study checked for plausibility by independent experts and his concern for the future of the city was confirmed.

Now, three months after the study was published, the city of Zittau is taking the next step and is filing a complaint with the European Commission. "We feel compelled to do so because we have not been treated correctly on the previous path of the environmental impact assessment," said Mayor Thomas Zenker. "We have the clear impression that the Polish authorities and the project sponsors deliberately do not take European law seriously."

Even with the knowledge of the importance of cross-border cooperation in the three-country region, the city council of the large district town of Zittau supports the mayor with this approach by a large majority. “It is very unfortunate that we have to do this with the Polish side. Some now fear that this may damage the good regional cooperation that has developed. But we see it differently: The basis for good cooperation are clear and shared rules. As Zittau city councilor and mayor, we have the duty and responsibility to look after the future of our city and region and its residents,” said Mayor Zenker.

The reasons for the path now being taken are serious: a whole series of original concerns about fine dust and noise have not been resolved, The concerns of the Saxon authorities regarding the groundwater issue, soil movements and the water quality of the Neisse have also not been resolved to this day. There is a lack of usable data. In addition, in October 2020, the findings from Dr. Croup. Today there is no clarity as to what concrete recultivation should take place after the opencast mine. From Zittau's point of view, there are still many unanswered questions while the excavators have long been running.

On March 20, 2020, the city of Zittau had already lodged an objection to the completely surprising approval of the Regional Director for Environment in Wroclaw to continue operating the Turòw opencast mine. Insofar as concerns of the city of Zittau have been taken into account in the proceedings, the measures specified are neither plausible nor appropriate and, in turn, lead to new environmental impacts that have not yet been considered. For example, the filling of an overburden dump of over 1000m in length and approx. 50m in height above the natural terrain along the Neisse appears completely inappropriate as a "noise protection measure".

The city of Zittau wants to achieve a new legal review of the open-cast mining permit, says Zenker: “We need the support of the European level: The situation must be clearly checked and assessed again and, on the other hand, the region and the people around Turów need a perspective when Poland finds itself in the current discussion on a clear exit scenario. That would be possible in the Just Transition Fund, but according to our information it is not yet planned for our neighboring region."


After the opposition to the plans to continue the open pit mine in March, the study by geologist Dr. Habil. Ralf E. Krupp concluded that the mining work will pose considerable risks for the city of Zittau and the surrounding villages. In addition to the expected protracted exposure to acid mine water, there are above all groundwater subsidence, subsidence in the Zittau urban area of several centimeters and, in the worst case, a breakthrough of the Neisse river into the open-cast mining area in the developed paper.
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