The real faces behind PGE’s Turów coal mine

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

The residents of the Liberec region in the Czech Republic blame the Turów mine for draining their water. [Ibra Ibrahimovič]

Coal mines, like the controversial Turów mine on the Polish/Czech border, are not the future. Indeed, the presence of the mine is risking the region’s ability to transition away from coal and the livelihoods of the people around it, writes Milan Starec.

Milan Starec is a resident of the Liberec Region of the Czech Republic, which is just south of the Polish/Czech border and has alleged that the Polish Turów mine is draining its water supply.

I live on the Czech/Polish border near the Turów coal mine. For years, I have been struggling to ensure my life here is healthy and safe from the nearby mine, but as its illegal digging expands, it is endangering me and my neighbours. So I was shocked that, after years of the mine taking away our drinking water and us fighting to get this recognised, the Polish authorities decided to simply ignore us and prolong the mine’s life until 2044.

At the same time, the mine’s operator – state-owned PGE – started an advertising campaign showing the face of a sad little girl from a stock photo website, asking why we want to destroy her family’s livelihood.

I am asking you to look at my face because it is real. As real as the faces of many other people here losing their drinking water every day because of the Turów mine. As real as the faces of those whose houses are cracking from the mine’s ongoing, illegal operations.

Turów causes real problems for the Czech, German, and yes, also Polish people living around it. During the weekends we hear church bells from Opolno-Zdrój – a former Polish spa town which is about to be destroyed for the mine’s extension.

PGE wants people to believe that 80,000 people would lose their jobs if the complex is closed. Well, the real number of employees of Turów complex is 3,536 – 1,190 of which retire by 2030. In the whole chain of employment there are surely more people engaged, but as the whole region has 89,200 inhabitants – including kids and pensioners – this number is definitely far from true.

What is true is that our Polish neighbours are afraid that once the mining is over, there will be no more future for them in this region. I completely understand their fear, as PGE is the main employer here. But that is exactly the reason why the transition of the region needs to be embraced and started as soon as possible, not fought with misinformation and false hope.

We see all over Europe that the coal industry is under huge economic pressure, and PGE’s stubbornness in fighting the inevitable is prolonging the suffering of common people living here. Unless there are new jobs and opportunities created in a matter of years, the region will face much deeper problems.

If PGE truly cared about the people in the region, they would have prepared the transition plan already. They would face the situation and, as good managers, ensure that this region gets funds from the EU. This will help to create new jobs and open the door to a better future for those whose jobs are at risk, but also finally bring protection and peace of mind to people like me.

Instead, PGE decided to risk the transition funds, fuel the fear of their employees, and strengthen the conflict in my neighbourhood. Local people, Czech and German municipalities, NGOs, even the Czech state and MEPs have come out in opposition to the mine, but Polish authorities have simply ignored everyone and prolonged the mine’s operation for the next 23 years.

We want all of our neighbours, be it over the street or over the borders, to have secure and happy lives. I cannot imagine they would wish anything less for us. More and more coal mining doesn’t provide this for anyone, and I do not understand why the European Commission does not step up and enforce EU legislation to protect real people and real communities. It is needed for all of us, in all three countries.

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