Surprise new licence for the Turów coal mine violates EU law, say Anna Cavazzini and Daniel Gerber

Images by Julian Nyča/2016 CC-BY-SA-3.0
Images by Julian Nyča/2016 CC-BY-SA-3.0

Representatives Gerber and Cavazzini: Ending the concession on April 30, 2020 would have been the only acceptable solution to protect the climate.

Dresden. The Turów opencast lignite mine, at the border between Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany will stay open. The current mining licence should have expired on 30 April 2020. Operator PGE, a state-run company, unexpectedly announced on March 24, 2020 that the Polish climate Minister Michał Kurtyka had granted a new licence for 6 years, three days prior.

The surface of the mine will be reduced, compared to the concession of 1994. However, mining activities can still be carried out in over half of the existing area. No objection to the project from the public could be raised during proceedings.

A separate application by the same operator for the extension and expansion of the concession until 2044 is still pending. It was submitted in 2015.

Daniel Gerber, energy and environmental policy spokesperson for the Alliance 90/Die Grünen parliamentary group and member of the Committee on Energy, Climate Protection, Environment and Agriculture in the Saxon Parliament, explains:

The decision to prolong the concession is incredible. Poland is trying to establish a new situation that will have far-reaching consequences for Saxony and the Czech Republic„.

I am very worried. Impacted cities in Saxony are only a few kilometers away from the mine. Ending the license on April 30, 2020 would have been the only acceptable solution to protect the climate.

„Urgent action is needed now. The effects of opencast lignite mining on the climate are catastrophic. Climate change is not suddenly holding its breath, as public life is currently doing because of the spread of the corona virus. In order to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, renewable energies must be expanded everywhere in Europe and coal capacities must be reduced rather than increased“.

„In addition, the renewed licence also runs counter to the welfare of people in the border region, and to the active protection of their health. A study by CREA (the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air) recently showed that the pollution from Turów leads to health damagesand premature deaths, including here in Saxony. Polluting emissions do not stop at the border.“

MEP Anna Cavazzini, representing Saxony in the European Parliament added:

I have repeatedly warned about violations of EU law linked to this mine. Granting a new licence without citizens having been able to exercise their right to object is again a breach of EU law. If warnings do not bring results, the EU Commission must initiate legal action in the form of an infringement procedure against Poland.”

Even and especially in these difficult times of corona pandemic, the EU Commission must ensure compliance with the EU treaties. If EU law is not implemented, the EU Commission is entitled to take the matter to the European Court of Justice and order the payment of fines.”

Poland can still turn back. The Green Deal aims at making the EU a climate-neutral continent by2050 at the latest. Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, should set out to become a cross-border coal exit region, using availablepublic support such as the European ‚Just Transition Fund‘.”

I find it particularly sad to see thata petition against the expansion of the Turów minewas totally ignored.It was delivered barely three weeks ago: almost 13000 committed Europeans have signed it. Instead of waiting for a decision at the European level, Poland is pushing ahead with a surprise national move. If the Commission does not act now, citizens will be greatly disappointed and confidence in the EU risks being weakened once more.”

Background

A petition against the extension and expansion of the Turów opencast lignite mine is still open. Almost 13,000 people signed the petition, which was initiated by the Czech regional authority in Liberec, together with ten municipalities and Greenpeace.

On March 05, 2020, petitioners officially handed over the signatures to members of the European Parliament in Brussels. Due to the urgency, the European Parliament decided to treat the petition using its accelerated procedure. Unfortunately the spread of the coronavirus halted activities of the European Parliament petition Committee. The petition was scheduled to be processed by the Committee on March 16 and 17, but the meeting was canceled without a new date.

According to a Czech study from December 2019, the opencast lignite mine in Turów has already led to a lowering of groundwater levels of 20 meters. 30,000 people in the Liberec region are threatened with the loss of clean drinking water. Further consequences include air pollution, noise pollution and general water shortages. They affect thousands of people in Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany.

The current mining concession of the Turów mine dates back to 1994. It should have expired on 30 April 2020. In order to continue mining, an initial application for the extension and expansion until 2044 was submitted in 2015. This application was accompanied by an environmental impact assessment, with public consultations. By 20 January 2020, several citizens had exercised their right to object to the project.

On January 21, 2020, environmental authorities in Wroclaw (Poland) approved the application for extension and expansion until 2044. The document was then published exclusively in Polish.

Polish documents have only been translated into German on 16 March 2020, and made available for review. They are over 180 pages long. Stakeholders in Germany and the Czech Republic, who had submitted objections, are currently evaluating the approval decision and considering further steps. Final approval of the extension until 2044 is still pending.

In December 2019, PGE submitted a second separate application to extend the concession for 6 years, until 2026. The procedure did not allow any objections to be raised by the public, which constitutes a violation of EU law. According to PGE, the second application has now been approved by the Polish Minister of Climate Michał Kurtyka on March 20, 2020, on the basis of the approval decision of the Polish Environmental Authority of January 21, 2020.

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