Poland and the Czech Republic started talks regarding the contested mining license for the Turów opencast. The Polish counterpart, according to the Czechs, wasn’t prepared and wasn't able to respond to some of the allegations. Now, the Czech Ministry of Environment is preparing a list of demands. Chances of reaching an agreement still exist, but if there is none, as soon as in 2021 Poland may be sued by the Czech Republic to the European Court of Justice. It is striking that the Polish media have commented on the November 13 meeting so little.
On the 13th of November, the European Commission has mediated discussions between Poland and the Czech Republic in the case of Turów open-pit mine, which is a threat to the drinking water sources in the Czech Liberec region.
In March 2020, despite the international protests, Poland extended the opencast mining license by six years. Representatives of Czech local community and NGOs highlighted that, among others, EU environmental protection laws have been violated. The mine expansion and the license extension were categorically opposed by endangered residents of the Liberec region (supported by the Czech state authorities, local government officials and civil society groups), who are already experiencing negative effects of its activities.
– After the official complaint by the Czech government, the European Commission has three years to deal with the problem and issue a reasoned opinion as to whether an infringement has been committed. After this time, the Czech Republic may file a lawsuit to the UE Court of Justice – comments Petra Urbanová from Frank Bold Society. – It is a very short period. There's no room for long negotiations. That is why it is a crucial meeting, during which the Czech Republic will get familiarized with Poland's position and decide whether the issue should be directed to the Court.
The November 13 conversations were commented upon in the Czech and German media. The Polish press barely covered this topic.
Czech deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, Martin Smolek, who was present at the meeting in Brussels, told the Czech website Deník that the Polish side arguments “didn’t convince the Czech delegation”. According to him, Poland didn’t have any response to some of the Czech arguments.
As per Smolek, if the Polish counterpart doesn’t comply with the Czech requirements, the Czech Republic is ready to present the case to the EU Court of Justice. Also, a provisional measure is being considered, on the basis of which the Court could suspend the mining in a relatively short time.
As Smolek informs, within 14 days, Czech Ministry of Environment will prepare a list of demands and will send them to the Polish counterpart. “We are still ready for an agreement, as long as Poland fulfills our demands” - Smolek adds.
However, if the solution can’t be reached, as soon as January 1st 2021, Czechia will be able to sue Poland.
On November, 12, an update of the Global Coal Exit List was published. It included 935 companies from all over the world.. Also, the Turów mine owner – Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE) – appeared on the list.
– We are in a state of climate crisis and a quick decarbonization is more urgent than ever. Our database identifies 935 companies, which should be included on the financial industry's blacklist – says Heffa Schuecking, a director of a German organization Urgewald, which updates GCEL.
434 out of 935 companies included in the database are planning new coal power plants, new coal mines or new infrastructure for coal transportation. Fewer than 25 companies on the GCEL adopted a deadline for a coa phase outl. “Data that we gathered constitute a terrifying testimony of the refusal of the coal industry to deal with the climate reality” – Schuecking adds.
In the press release sent by Urgewald, extensive passages appear regarding PGE and Turów mine.
“[...] Czechia filed a formal complaint to the European Commission regarding the Turów lignite mine, owned by Polska Grupa Energetyczna. The mine is on the Polish-Czech-German border and uses 30 liters of water per second, leaving the whole villages without access to water and endangering groundwater levels in the whole area. If PGE plans regarding the mine extension were to be implemented, thousands of Czech families on the other side of the border would lose access to drinking water.”
And Europe’s most stanch coal hardliner, the Polish utility PGE in October 2020 announced plans to transfer its coal mines and coal power stations to a new, yet to be founded state-owned entity. PGE is Europe’s second largest coal plant operator and produced 91% of its power by burning coal in 2019. The company has found it difficult to attract financing as more and more European financial institutions are shedding their investments in coal.
“It is a good sign that PGE finally realizes the need to transform its business. The company should, however keep its coal assets and close them down, rather than passing the responsibility for its bad investment decisions onto the state and taxpayers. The restoration of PGE’s mining sites alone will take decades,” says Kuba Gogolewski from the Polish NGO Fundacja “Rozwój TAK - Odkrywki NIE”.
The updated version of the Global Coal Exit List in English is available at www.coalexit.org
The local government from Zgorzelecki poviat, associated in the Zgorzelecki Area Communes Association, Zgorzelecki Cluster and Turoszów Basin Transition Committee, signed a Declaration of Cooperation with “Lusatian Green Deal”, as part of energy transition of Turoszów Basin. “The main goal of the project is a transition that is safe, possibly least noticeable economically and socially both for the residents of the region and the employees of the mining sector and the accompanying sectors. The key is to gain funds from the EU Just Transition Fund – we read in Polish Press Agency release.
Further we read: “The funds for Turów will be mobilized under the condition that a clear information on the gradual closing of mines and power plants is given. The signatories underline that without the funds from Just Transition Fund, it won't be possible to implement such deep changes and it will cause an economic and social crisis of the whole region.”
In the meantime, PGE is fiercely protecting the operation of Turów mine and power plant until 2044. At the same time, according to PGE's new strategy, it will get rid of Turów mine and power plant until the end of 2021.
On the other hand, the government is silent about the dates of turning off the lignite at Turów power plant, thus escalating the conflict with the German Saxony and the Czech Republic, related to the impact of Turów open-pit mine on the groundwater in these two countries, while the cooperation with the neighbours will be one of the most import conditions for the successful transition of Zgorzelec region after the mining in the opencast and energy production in Turów will have ended.
An electoral deabte between two candidates for mayor of Bogatynia : Wojciechem Dobrołowiczem and Arturem Oliaszem was showne by Bogatynia television last week.
During the debate, a question was asked about the future of Bogatynia commune. The hostess asked the candidates how they wanted to apply for the Just Transition Funds. Both of them stated that they wanted to pressure the European Commission and benefit from the Fund, but at the same time Turów should be mining coal until 2044. Neither of them mentioned an earlier shutdown of Turów nor alternatives such as renewable energy sources. According to Dobrołowicz, the Turów mine constantly protects the environment, whereas Oliasz wants to change the EU law in order to obtain the money from the Fund. “We can't agree to the conditions put by the EU” – he stated.
Also, a question of the future of Opolna-Zdrój and the monuments therein was raised. For the candidates, the monuments are important, but they admit that a part of Opolno will have to be demolished due to the mine extension.
The mayor elections in Bogatynia have been postponed and will took place on December, 20.
On November 23rd and-24th, a plenary meeting of the International Commission for the Protection of the Odra River from Pollution (ICPO) is planned. Before the meeting, the representatives of NGOs, MPs and MEPs are calling upon the ICPOto include the negative impact of the Turów mine on the groundwater quantitative status as a supra-regional problem and to act together in a coordinated way so that all the states represented in the ICPOmay assess the compliance of the Turów mine extension with the article 4 section 7 of Water Framework Directive.
“The discussion about the impact of Turów complex on the Oder river basin on the national level (as it has been done in Poland until now) is insufficient. The international river basin is an area, where a good water status is taken care of by all the states, in which the river basin is located. The state of Oder river should be as important to Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic.”
Last week, one of the main Polish dailies - Gazeta Wyborcza - published an infographic, illustrating how Turów destroys the surrounding area. Its analysis helps to better understand the destructive impact of the mine and nearby power plant on the environment.
The depth of the Turów mine is 260 metres, whereas the Polish Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw used for comparison is 237 metres tall. In order to mine the brown coal, the terrain must be drained, which leads to an abrupt groundwater outflow. As a result, an extensive depression cone appears, and the inhabitants of the surrounding areas start to observe lack of water in their wells.
Also, Turów power plant “for years has been one of the biggest polluters in Poland. Annually, it emits almost 10 mln tonnes of carbon dioxide and produces thousands of tonnes of sulfur and nitrogen oxide - 21 thousands tonnes and 9 thousand tonnes respectively.”