Polish Supreme Court Overturns Lower Court Decision To Suspend Mining In Turow

The Turow lignite mine is an important producer of electric energy in Poland. Credit: Anna Uciechowska, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Warsaw/Prague, July 19 (CTK) – Czech representatives of Greenpeace and lawyers from the Frank Bold group have criticised yesterday’s verdict from the Polish Supreme Administrative Court which overturned the Warsaw Administrative Court’s previous decision to suspend the permit for further mining at the Turow lignite mine after 2026.

The Warsaw court suspended the mining permit at the end of May, pending a full review of the lawsuit, but the Supreme Administrative Court annulled this decision, according to reports from the PAP Polish news agency, citing the court spokesman.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who vowed during a visit to Turow in June that Poland would not close the mine, and would do everything it could to keep it running until 2044, described the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court as a “great victory” for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is seeking a third consecutive term in office in parliamentary elections in the autumn.

The Turow lignite mine, located close to the borders with the Czech Republic and Germany, supplies coal mainly to the nearby Turow plant, which is an important producer of electric energy in Poland. Environmentalists say the mining threatens the environment, mainly the groundwater around the mine.

The Czech and Polish prime ministers signed a bilateral agreement to address the impact of mining in Turow in February 2022. The countries agreed on 45 million euros in compensation for the damage caused by the mining in Turow and a five-year supervision conducted by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The Czech Republic then withdrew the lawsuit it had filed over the matter with the CJEU.

The PGE Group, which owns both the Turow mine and the power plant, plans to continue and gradually extend the mining until 2044 to 30 square km along the road from the Saxon town of Zittau to Bogatynia in Poland. Poland gave the go-ahead to the mining extension regardless of the objections of the neighbouring countries. In February, the Polish Environment Ministry issued the respective permit.

A lawsuit filed by the Frank Bold Foundation, Greenpeace, and the Eko-unia environmental association against the authorities’ decision concerning the impacts of further mining is to be heard by the Warsaw Administrative Court at the end of August, PAP reported.

Regardless of that set date, the Supreme Administrative Court received three appeals against the Warsaw court’s decision, from the director of the state environmental protection office, from PGE and from the public prosecutor’s office. They argued that the Warsaw court had failed to clarify what specific steps and circumstances threatened to cause serious and even irreparable damage to the environment.

The lawsuits were examined by Malgorzata Maternak-Kubiak, a judge of the Supreme Administrative Court, who justified her decision by saying that the lower-level court should have considered the issue not only from the perspective of the environmentalist complainants, but also from the broadly understood public interest and the interests of the parties involved in the dispute.

Czech environmentalists from Greenpeace have criticised the decision.

“It’s always sad when a court defends the fossil fuel industry rather than justice and the laws of a given country,” said Lukas Hrabek, a spokesman for Greenpeace Czech Republic.

Petra Kalenska, a lawyer for Frank Bold, said she considered the verdict problematic because mining in the Turow mine must have a valid EIA (environmental impact assessment) decision, and there is no way to circumvent this requirement.

Greenpeace climate and energy campaign coordinator Anna Meres told Reuters that the final verdict in the case was yet to come. “Today’s verdict is not the end of the Turow mine case,” she said.

According to the Polish government, the mine and the adjacent power plant cover 8% of the country’s electricity consumption. German and Czech environmentalists oppose the continuation of mining beyond 2026, saying the activity threatens the environment, which the Polish government denies, according to the Gazeta news server.

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