Turow lignite mine. Credit: Anna Uciechowska, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

NGOs Protest As Polish Government Gives Green Light To Further Operation of Turow Lignite Mine

The operation of the Turow mine has been the subject of a long-running dispute between the Polish and Czech governments, as well as environmental groups. Photo credit: Anna Uciechowska, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0.   

Prague, Oct 10 (CTK) – The further operation of the controversial Turow lignite mine in Poland, near the Czech border, has received a positive environmental impact assessment (EIA) from Polish authorities, experts from the Frank Bold organisation and Greenpeace told CTK today.

The Polish authorities can permit mining in Turow until 2044.

However, Frank Bold, an activist law firm which has long been involved in the dispute, argues that the decision is based on incorrect data, and will result in residents living on the Czech side of the border continuing to lose groundwater.

Greenpeace plans to launch legal action against the decision.

The inhabitants of Czech border villages in the Liberec Region, north Bohemia, are concerned not only about high levels of dust and noise, but primarily about soil erosion and loss of groundwater.

“This is nothing we did not expect,” said Milan Starec from the Czech Uhelna civic group, responding to news of the positive EIA.

After the Czech Republic struck a deal with Poland over Turow and accepted financial compensation, it was clear that Poland would allow it, he said, adding that mining in Turow can now continue for more than 20 years.

However, he said he hoped it would end earlier. “Even its owner PGE is massively investing in renewable sources, as it may not pay to operate the mine and the power plant for such a long time,” Starec noted.

Liberec Regional councillor for the environment, Vaclav Zidek (Pirates), said he did not believe the Greenpeace decision to bring the case to court would change anything.

However, he rejected criticism of the Czech-Polish agreement on Turow. “This deal is being fulfilled and is moving further,” he said. He also argued that even the immediate cessation of mining in Turow would not halt the loss of groundwater.

Frank Bold claims that the new Polish EIA permit is based on data from 2015, predicting a decline in the groundwater level by between 3 and 15 metres by 2044. However, by last year, the groundwater level had already dropped by between 8 and 34 metres.

According to Frank Bold, the proposal for preventive measures is also based on an outdated hydrogeological model that does not reflect the current situation. “The measures are intended to reduce the negative impact of the mining and ensure that water does not drain from the Czech territory. Consequently, the underground barrier projected on the basis of an incorrect hydrogeological model cannot be functioning,” the organisation said.

In the past, the regional office issued an EIA decision necessary for continued mining at the site, but a court annulled it this year.

Frank Bold points out that, under the terms of European directive, mining cannot be launched or continued without this assessment. “Poland is thus in violation of European law, which is completely unacceptable,” Frank Bold lawyer Petra Kalenska said in a press release.

Greenpeace also considers the current mining operation in Turow illegal. Environmentalists claim that the EIA process is still at odds with European and Polish legislation. “Public comments pointing to the negative impacts of the mining have never been sufficiently taken into consideration, as the entire process is based on outdated data,” Greenpeace said.

The Turow mine supplies coal mainly to a nearby power plant, which is an important producer of electric energy in Poland. The PGE Group, which owns both the mine and the power plant, plans to continue mining until 2044, and gradually extend the mine to 30 square kilometres along the road from Zittau in Saxony, to Bogatynia.

The Czech and Polish prime ministers signed a bilateral agreement on tackling the impact of mining in Turow on 3 February. Poland then paid EUR 45 million in compensation for the damage caused by the mining in the Czech Republic, and Prague, for its part, withdrew the lawsuit it had filed over the issue with the European Court of Justice (CJEU).

However, Frank Bold and Greenpeace are challenging this agreement, arguing that it does not protect Czech inhabitants from groundwater loss.

“By concluding the agreement with Poland about further mining in Turow, the Czech Republic is covering up a violation of the law,” Greenpeace said.

Both organisations argue that the financial compensation will not be sufficient to fund the crisis infrastructure to secure drinking water for citizens on the Czech side of the border.

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