In Poland, EU Court Rules Pause for Massive Coal Mine

Turow coal mine, Poland. Image: Wikimedia Commons

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Poland relies heavily on coal and has been resistant to transitioning away from the industry that powers 70% of its electricity. But as a member of the European Union, the country is bound to the EU’s climate targets and bloc-spanning judicial system.

Last week, the EU’s top court ruled that Poland must stop mining brown coal at the Turów mine until the final decision in a case brought by the neighboring Czech Republic. The lawsuit accused the open lignite mine of causing pollution and draining groundwater, complaints the Czechs had made before but “those grumbles were rejected by the Polish government,” as Politico EU reports


Why This Matters: This case is an example of how the European Union’s ability to legislate and litigate beyond national boundaries can advance climate goals. Poland’s nationalist government just agreed last month to end its use of coal by 2049 — just one year before the entire bloc is meant to go carbon neutral. Poland’s state-controlled PGE utility company rushed through a permitting process to keep the Turów mine running until 2044, which sparked the Czech lawsuit. The extended permit also risked the Turów region losing access to the EU’s Just Transition Fund, designed specifically to help coal-dependent regions wind down old industries and create new ones without leaving workers in the lurch.

Polish Government at Odds with Polish People: Poland’s decision to prolong and delay its coal phase out will only make the situation worse for the people working in the industry who will eventually need to find new jobs, as well as the broader public who face air pollution and groundwater issues from continued coal use. If Poland sticks to its current energy plan, its coal emissions would single-handedly blow through the entire EU’s coal budget in 2030. This reality also means that the EU’s Green Deal could be stalled due to Poland’s emissions. Most Poles (67%) think that their government isn’t doing enough to fight climate change, according to a recent Pew study.

This situation could have been avoided if only the Polish government and PGE had taken the need for planning the Just Transition seriously,” Greenpeace Poland’s Joanna Flisowska told Politico EU. “Instead they decided to keep denying the reality.” 

Given the current situation in Poland, Flisowska hopes the EU court ruling will lead Poland to act on climate. “There is no other way than to move away from coal within the next decade,” she said


What’s At Stake: Air pollution in Poland is the worst in the EU. The country also recorded among the lowest reductions in air pollution during the pandemic lockdown. The consequences of this air pollution are disproportionately affecting Polish children. A study last fall found that children in a Polish city had over four times the level of harmful substances from air pollution in their bodies as their counterparts in France.

Coal mines also pose a risk through fires and explosions that spew dangerous air pollution into the air, as was the case this weekend when the nation’s largest mine caught on fire.

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