Czech Republic to Sue over Polish Mine Turów

Photo by Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

The Czech Republic will sue over the expansion of a lignite mine in Poland near the border. The city of Zittau in Germany is also hoping that the state will support them in taking decisive action against the expansion of the mine.

The Turów lignite coal mine is a large open pit mine located right at the tri-border of Germany, Poland and Czech Republic. The mine is operated by Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE) and is one of the largest lignite reserves in Poland. It produces about 30 million tons of lignite every year and is several kilometers wide and about 200 meters deep.

This region has been known as the “Black Triangle” because of a history of heavy industrial pollution. On the German side, just south of Görlitz, coal had been mined for more than 150 years. Production finally stopped in December 1997 and Lake Berzdorf was created, with flooding of the new lake finishing in 2013.

Turów’s license was set to expire in April 2020 but in March 2020 the Polish government extended it by another six years. The company wants to operate the mine until 2044 and expand the site significantly. Neighboring communities in Czech Republic and Germany are concerned about the effects this would have on their quality of life.

Czech Republic and Zittau are accusing Poland of moving forward with decisions regarding the mine without allowing citizens of neighboring countries to have a say, in violation with EU legislation. The mayor of Zittau is concerned about the effect the coal mine is having on his town. The mine is blamed for decreasing groundwater levels, pollution of the Neisse River, noise pollution, air pollution and even the sinking and cracking of the foundations of some buildings in Zittau. The city filed an objection last March but received no answer from Polish authorities.

It’s unusual for a city to take a complaint to the EU – this is usually done at a regional or federal level. This is why Zittau hopes that the state of Saxony will take decisive action. The Green and Left party in Saxony state parliament agree, but other members would rather attempt to work out the situation with Poland instead of going to court.

There is also the fear that without structural change, the closing of the mine could have a great economic impact on the region. The mine has 5,000 employees and a further 10,000 people who work in companies related to the mine’s activity. Coal still generates about three-quarters of Poland’s electricity.