Photo by Petr Zewlakk Vrabec for Greenpeace

Czech Republic set to launch legal action against Poland for destructive coal mining

As the Czech government gears up for a court case against the Turów mine’s transnational water grab, campaigners call on the European Commission to intervene immediately, writes Roberta Arbinolo.

The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an official complaint against Poland to stop the expansion of the Turów mine, which drains water from communities across the border in a blatant violation of four EU directives.

The submission, that was filed with the European Commission yesterday, is a pre-step to bringing the case in front of the European Court of Justice for infringement of obligations under EU Treaties.

At the Polish border with the Czech Republic and Germany, the Turów open-cast lignite mine withdraws about 30 litres of water per second, leaving entire villages dry and threatening groundwater in the three countries.

Since May 2020, the mine has operated illegally, thanks to a six-year mining licence extension obtained without public participation and without any environmental impact assessment.

Polish state-owned company PGE is now planning to expand it and re-licence its operation until 2044. If this happens, thousands of families in the Czech region of Liberec will lose access to potable water.

The mine expansion is incompatible with the Water Framework Directive, the Environmental Liability Directive, the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, and the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive.

The project is also inconsistent with Europe’s plans for zero pollution and climate neutrality, as well as with a just transition beyond coal.

Locking in dirty coal

Coal is a major source of air pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate breakdown. The extended mine would extract about 10 million tons of lignite per year, which would result in the emission of about 10.3 million metric tons of CO2 per year.

At the same time, the project would contribute to a lock-in of unsustainable coal-fired energy in Poland, the only member state that has not subscribed to the EU’s climate neutrality ambition, in direct opposition to the necessary transition towards decarbonisation.

Riccardo Nigro, Campaign Coordinator on Coal Combustion and Mines at the EEB, said: “The European Commission must stop PGE’s transnational water grab in Turów, and they must do it now. They cannot let a coal giant steal water from people in the midst of a health and climate crisis, and in violation of the laws they are supposed to enforce. An infringement procedure must be started immediately.”

Borderless challenge

Last month, over 150 national and European policymakers, local authorities and citizens groups called on the European Commission to take urgent action on the Turów case. Their statement was launched during an action at the tripoint border of Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic, where demonstrators kayaked down the river and held a cross-border human chain to protest the failure of their governments and EU institutions to enforce the law and defend their rights.

Back in July, the European Parliament’s Petition Committee discussed a petition, signed by 13,000 EU citizens, to stop the Turów project.

As from today, the Commission has three months to react to the complaint, before the Czech government can take Poland to the European Court of Justice in January.

Petra Urbanová, a lawyer from EEB Czech member organisation Frank Bold, told META: “The Commission has been waiting for too long. Now there is nothing more to wait for as they have only three months to issue their statement and to enable the Czech Republic to take Poland to court. Mining in Turów has been illegal since May, and access to water for thousands of Czech families is at stake. We cannot wait any longer.”