Solidarity for Turów? Well, close the mine

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Turów open-pit mine in Poland. [Fotokon / Shutterstock]

The controversial Turów coal mine in Poland has been negatively impacting the people who live around it for decades. The European Commission now needs to step in and enforce common EU rules to enable a just transition to take place, writes Mikuláš Peksa.

Mikuláš Peksa is an MEP in the Greens/ EFA party and sits on the industry, research and energy committee.

You may have noticed the newest campaign carried by Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), the third-largest European CO2 emitter.

A small girl is looking at you from a gloomy ad, asking you “Why do you want to take away my family’s livelihood?” PGE seems to have touching concerns about children living next to its mines in southern Poland, close to the borders with Czechia and Germany. Except it doesn‘t.

The Turów open-pit mine in Poland has been negatively affecting thousands of people in Poland, Czechia, and Germany for decades. Local people and civil society organisations protested against the extension of its mining concession last years.

The legal licence for the mine expired on the 30th of April 2020. But Poland unlawfully extended it until 2026, intending to continue mining until 2044. This was finally confirmed by the Polish Minister of Climate and Environment last month.

The Polish government performed this unilateral act despite the EU rules. Despite the fact that the mine causes massive loss of water on the Czech side of the borders. Despite the common environmental goals approved by both EU member states and the European Parliament.

Turów is damaging its neighbourhood. Several studies have proved an indubitable link between the mine and lower levels of water, even a risk of underground waters contamination. Earlier this year, the Czech Republic filed an unprecedented lawsuit against Poland at the EU Court of Justice for violating the EU law.

Turów is causing serious health and social complications. According to a recent study by CREA, the mine operation caused 120 premature deaths in 2017 and 51,000 days of sick leave from work per year.

The strong dependency of the Polish energy sector on coal-fuel power plants is the reason for the very generous support of Poland via the Just Transition Fund.

The country is to receive the largest share, EUR 2 billion, paid from the taxes of European citizens, in order to close down or transform its unsustainable units as soon as possible. Mines like Turów should be solved in the first line.

Instead, the insistence of the Polish government and PGE on keeping the open-pit mine operational and finishing the new 490-MW unit at Turów Power Plant has already cost the region access to the Just Transition Fund finances. This is clearly a loss for people living nearby the mine, in all three countries.

And yes, it is possible to close down Turów it in just a few years. A Polish study showed the mine could be closed down in 2026, and the feasibility of decrease from the current 70% coal sourcing to just 13% in 2030, without compromising the country’s energy security.

But first and foremost, Turów just should not be there. We forced the European Commission last year to get a closer look at the extension of the mining concession. The result was clear in my opinion: the decision of the Polish government was unlawful and the operation should have ended by April 2020.

One year later, we are witnessing not only a running open-pit mine but also PGE calling for “solidarity” and warning before “predatory transition”.

I’m wondering what “predatory” means, coming from a company that liberated itself from all possible rules, forced the government to extend the legal licence for its emissions up to 2044 and will benefit from financial support for coal affected regions due to its projects in other Polish regions.

PGE is also the owner of Europe’s single biggest CO2 emitter, the Belchatów power plant, and by the way, it’s also the only major EU based energy utility provider who refused to lower CO2 emission rates between 2015–2019.

It would be interesting to think about “lack of solidarity” while looking at the long-term cumulative environmental, social and health impacts of fossil-fuel giants like this one. However, even the European Commission seems to feel intimidated by the campaign and is probably going to overlook the illegal mine for one more year.

Indeed, we need a just transition based on solidarity and respect for the member states’ circumstances. It’s precisely what the European Commission should do right now: enforce common EU rules to protect European citizens, the rights on health, environment and life in dignity, regardless of the country of their origin.

Solidarity can’t be misused for covering up a violation of the law. Then it’s not solidarity: it’s simply blackmailing.

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