Czech Republic to sue Poland over Turów coal mine expansion

Turów coal mine, photo: Julian Nyča, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Czech Republic will sue Poland over the expansion of the Turów brown coal mine located in the close proximity to the Czech border. The expansion –which should enable mining to continue until 2044 -was approved by the Polish authorities, despite Czech concerns that it would threaten water sources for villages on the Czech side, as well as severely increasing noise and dust pollution.

The Czech-Polish dispute over the planned expansion of the Turów brown coal mine located in the close proximity to the Czech border goes back to 2016 when the Czech Republic first protested against the plan, requesting information about the impact on water resources, agricultural land and other habitats, as well as air and noise pollution on the Czech side of the border.

Wells and streams around the towns of Frýdlant, Hrádek nad Nisou and Chrastava in the north Bohemian region are already drying up as a result of the mining activity across the border and the mine’s extension –which will stop just one kilometre from the common border – is threatening to make the situation even worse.

Efforts to halt the project through bilateral negotiations have been unsuccessful, with Poland repeatedly arguing that adequate measures are being taken to protect inhabitants and land on the Czech side of the border from any negative side effects. A non-binding legal opinion from the European Commission last year, stating that Poland had made errors in applying the provisions of EU directives on environmental impact assessment and access to information, failed to make any difference.

Tomáš Petříček,  photo: ČTK/Michaela Říhová

After the last bilateral talks in Warsaw ten days ago failed to make headway, the government announced on Monday that it would file a complaint with the European Court of Justice, and seek an injunction that would halt operations at the mine, pending a ruling on the case.

Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petříček said the Czech Republic saw no other solution, but would remain open to negotiations with Poland in the hope of reaching an out-of-court agreement. “It is regrettable that a lawsuit is necessary when most of Europe is looking for ways to phase-out coal mining due to climate change,” Petříček told reporters.

The Polish authorities have expressed surprise over the move, saying that, in the course of applying for the license to expand the mine, PGE had carried out large scale consultations with both the Czech Republic and Germany. It said the last talks with Czech officials had appeared to indicate that a compromise agreement was possible.

The extension of operations at the mine until 2044 is to help increase Poland’s national security in electricity supplies, with coal mining in the country planned until 2049, ten to fifteen years later than the planned Czech phase-out of coal mining.

Moreover, an expert study suggests that, should mining continue to deplete ground water on the Czech side of the border, around one billion crowns will be needed in the coming years to provide 30,000 people from the area with drinking water.