Poland refuses to close disputed coal mine despite EU court penalty

The open-pit coal mine feeds the Turów power plant, but has caused contention over its disputed impact on the neighbouring Czech Republic [Martin Divíšek / EPA-EFE]

Poland vowed to keep its disputed Turów coal mine running despite being hit with a €500,000 daily penalty for defying an earlier court ruling to halt operations on Monday (20 September).

Europe’s top court, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), ordered the penalty, which should be paid to the European Commission, on Monday.

“Such a measure appears necessary in order to strengthen the effectiveness of the interim measures decided upon in the order of 21 May 2021 and to deter that Member State from delaying bringing its conduct into line with that order,” according to the Court.

It comes as part of an ongoing court case by the Czech Republic against Poland over the impact of the Turów open-pit mine that sits next to their shared border.

The mine, which produces lignite, or brown coal, has been operating for more than a century, but has recently expanded further towards the Czech border and is allegedly impacting the Czech water supply.

In May, the Court ordered the mine to be temporarily closed until the case was decided, but Poland has refused to do so.

Prague and Warsaw are currently locked in dragging negotiations on how to resolve the situation. The Czech government is asking Poland to cover the cost of constructing new sources of water and provide all available information about the mining impacts.  A deal should end any legal disputes.

Although the daily penalty is much lower than the €5 million Prague asked to be levied, the Czech Republic welcomed the penalty. However, it still wanted to reach an agreement in an amicable way.

“This is clear evidence that the European Court of Justice considers this a serious damage to the environment. Half a million euros is not little,” Czech Environment Minister Richard Brabec said.

“We want – and I hope that Poland wants the same – to strike a deal. It is not only about money, about some compensations but about technical conditions that have to be met before any continuation of mining,” he added.

But the Polish government said the penalty undermined the ongoing talks, and said that Turów, a major source of jobs and electricity in the region, would continue operations.

“The fine mentioned by the Court of Justice of the European Union is disproportionate to the situation and is not justified by facts,” Poland’s government said in a statement. “It undermines the ongoing process of reaching an amicable settlement.”

Czechia seeks deal over fine in Turow mine dispute with Poland

The European Court of Justice has ordered Poland to pay a daily €500,000 fine because it has not followed its interim measure and continues with mining in Turów, a lignite mine located at the Czech-Polish borders. Czechia considers the decision …

‘Judicial robbery’

The order comes amid other disputes Warsaw faces with the European Union, largely over the rule of law and some Polish officials have strongly rejected the order.

“The CJEU demands half a million daily fines from Poland for the fact that Poland did not leave its citizens without energy and did not close the mines overnight,” deputy justice minister Marcin Romanowski said on Twitter.

“It is judicial robbery and theft in broad daylight. You won’t get a cent,” he continued.

Poland has argued that the mine needs to stay open in order to provide energy security for the country. But campaigners say the mine provides less of the country’s power than the operating company, PGE, says and that prolonging mining in the region will slow down the transition to cleaner energy.

“The money that the Polish government will waste paying this fine would be better spent helping the people living in the Zgorzelec region justly transition to new jobs,” said Katarzyna Kubiczek, project manager from the Polish EKO-UNIA Ecological Association.

“Unfortunately,  the failure by the Polish government and PGE to plan for this inevitable change means that not only is money being wasted on fines, they will also lose far larger amounts of financial support from the Just Transition Fund,” she added.

Opposition politicians in Poland, too, have criticised the government for handling the issue poorly.

“Fines for the government’s irresponsible behaviour are paid by every Polish taxpayer,” Polish MEP Róża Thun (EPP) said, with similar comments levelled by the social democrats.

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