Polish efforts to expand Turów coal license caused setback
On Tuesday (January 1st), a court in Warsaw ruled that the Polish government acted illegally by swiftly adopting an environmental permit to extend the life of a controversial open-pit mine on the border of Germany and the Czech Republic.
The move is a victory for environmental groups who are challenging the coal mining project in Turów, which they say is causing dust pollution and groundwater supply problems for nearby communities.
“Instead of illegally accelerating the investment process in the interests of the coal lobby, the Polish government should set a coal phase-out date of 2030,” said Joanna Flisowska, head of climate and energy unit at Greenpeace Poland in response to the decision.
Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), an energy utility, would have been granted a license extension until 2044. But the ruling puts an end to that for now.
The government’s decision to speed up the environmental impact assessment had been challenged in court by the NGOs Europe Beyond Coal and Greenpeace, as well as the law firm Frank Bold.
Hubert Smolinski, Frank Bold’s lawyer, described the environmental consultation process for the extension of the mining permit as “a sham” and said in a statement that the Polish decision to immediately apply the permit was rightly deemed illegal.
But Smolinski said the Polish government would “most likely” appeal.
The Polish government could also seek to influence Poland’s Director General for Environmental Protection who is currently reviewing the environmental decision in a separate court case, Smolinski told EUobserver.
It could mean that Turów still gets his license after all.
Tuesday’s decision is not the only legal challenge facing the Turów mine.
In February 2021, the Czech Republic also filed a complaint with the European Court (ECJ) – a landmark litigation case involving one member state suing another for environmental reasons.
The CJEU ordered Poland to close the mine in May 2021, then imposed a daily fine of €500,000 in September for failing to do so. So far, Warsaw has refused to pay.
If the fine is not paid, which is now approaching 70 million euros, it will be deducted from Polish EU funds, the commission said recently after sending several payment requests since November.
The CJEU’s Advocate General is expected to deliver his legal opinion on Thursday.
“The Polish government and PGE are engaging in all sorts of illegal tricks to try to slow down the speed of the energy transition. This is fining Polish taxpayers millions of euros,” said Europe activist Zala Primc Beyond Coal in a statement. .
The Polish government is also pursuing an amicable settlement with the Czech Republic, but has failed to do so.
Czech Environment Minister Anna Hubovov had asked for compensation of 50 million euros, but Poland was only willing to pay 40 million euros.
The continuing stalemate earlier led Miroslaw Jasinski, Poland’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, to accuse his own government of showing a “lack of will to engage in dialogue”.
Shortly after, the country’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, recalled the ambassador to Warsaw.