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German city threatened by Polish coal mine joins call on EU to uphold water laws

Zittau, 12 October 2020 – The controversial Polish Turów lignite mine is polluting the Lusatian Neisse River, and causing subsidence that could damage houses across the German border in and around the city of Zittau, according to a new study by Dr. habil. Ralf E. Krupp. The threat has prompted the German city’s Lord Mayor to join representatives of the Czech city Liberec, in calling on the European Commission to enforce water law and protect people’s rights. 

 

The water study [1] presented today shows that the mine has already lowered groundwater in the region by 100 meters, with a further fall of 20 meters expected. Soil subsidence, which has dropped one meter already, is also expected to drop a further 20cm. The study warns that high concentrations of sulphate have been detected in the Lusatian Neisse River, and that near-surface groundwater in the region should be presumed polluted by acid mine waters. The study also estimates that water shortages caused by the mine could mean it will take 144 years to fill the open pit once it has been closed – much longer than claimed by PGE. 

 

“I urge the technical authorities of the Free State of Saxony to re-examine the risks and, if necessary, to take legal action against the project, following the example of the Czech side,” said Thomas Zenker, Lord Mayor of Zittau. “The previous approval procedure had already been unsatisfactory, and it was questionable whether the legal requirements of a European environmental impact assessment were met.”

 

The mine, which is owned by Polish state-owned utility PGE, and pushes up hard against Poland’s borders with Germany and the Czech Republic, has operated illegally since May 2020, when PGE obtained a six year licence extension from the Polish government despite failing to carry out a public consultation or a proper environmental impact assessment [2].

 

“It’s bad enough that in 2020, people are having to fight to prevent coal companies from denying them access to drinking water and damaging their property,” said Zala Primc, Europe Beyond Coal campaigner. “This coal mine is in blatant violation of EU laws and will inevitably have to be abandoned as coal’s economics continue to plunge. The European Commission needs to protect people’s rights.”

 

“People in three countries are paying the price for PGE’s greed,” said Riccardo Nigro, campaign coordinator on coal combustion and mines at the European Environmental Bureau. “If the Commission is serious about the European Green Deal, climate action, and the rule of law, they must start an infringement procedure against the Polish government immediately, and hold PGE accountable for its illegal water grab. This is the very least we can expect from them.”  

 

Notes to editors 

[1] Expert report on the cross-border effects of the continuation of lignite mining in Turów (Poland) on water in Germany, Dr. habil. Ralf E. Krupp, 2020. Commissioned by Greenpeace Germany and Frank Bold Society:
https://www.greenpeace.de/sites/www.greenpeace.de/files/2020-10-12_gutachten_auswirkungen_turow_auf_gewaesser_in_deutschland.pdf
English summary: https://bit.ly/2GTebWO 

[2] Czech Republic sets to launch legal action against Poland for destructive coal mining

[3] The Turów crisis escalated recently when the Czech Republic filed a formal complaint against Poland with the European Commission, citing the mine’s consumption of 30 litres of water per second as the cause of major water shortages in the region. In August, people from across Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic kayaked to the mine under the banner, Thirsty for Justice, in protest at the failure of their governments and EU institutions to uphold laws protecting them and their water from the mining and burning of coal. Civil society groups also sent a joint statement to the European Commission, outlining how Turów mine violates the Water Framework Directive, Environmental Liability Directive, the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, and the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive. Yet despite this widespread opposition, PGE is still trying to further expand and re-licence the mine, and keep it open until 2044.

For more information:

Czech Republic sets to launch legal action against Poland for destructive coal mining

Europe and Poland must stop Turów and bring water and climate justice – Joint statement

 

The EEB is part of Europe Beyond Coal (EBC), an international alliance of civil society groups working to catalyse the closures of coal mines and power plants, prevent the building of any new coal projects and hasten the just transition to clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. EBC groups are devoting their time, energy and resources to this independent campaign to make Europe coal free by 2030 or sooner. www.beyond-coal.eu