The Turów lignite mine is located in the south-western part of the Lower Silesian Province, in the Bogatynia municipality area. It is a small part of Polish territory surrounded by territories belonging to the Czech Republic and Germany.
Lignite has been industrially mined here using the open-pit method since 1904. The mine previously operated under the name Hercules. In 1947, the name Turów was introduced, and the exploited deposit was called Turów I. In 1968, the construction of the Turów II mine began. At that time, a fuel and energy complex were created, which, apart from two deposits, also included a coal-fired thermal power plant in Turoszów, built in 1962.
The mine and power plant are a significant source of revenue for local governments. The Bogatynia region is partially dependent on the Turów mine and power plant. The complex employs approx. 3,500 people (data from 2021), and adding subsidiaries, it is approx. 5,000 people. However, this represents only 6% of the population of the entire Zgorzelec County. The border areas, belonging to the Czech Republic and Germany, do not benefit from their operation. Instead, they incur significant costs associated with the mine's negative impact on groundwater in both countries and the air pollution generated by the power plant.
Despite the protests of the Czech side, the owner of the mine - PGE - has obtained a concession to exploit the lignite deposit until 2044. At the same time, the mine is to be enlarged and brought 150-200 m closer to the border with the Czech Republic. As a result, annual production to 2030 will amount to a maximum of 9-11.5 million tons of coal with a downward trend to 3.5-7 million tons in 2038-2044 (assuming that the concession will be extended for these years). The depth of the Turow mine will also increase. The bottom of the excavation is to be deepened up to 30 meters below the level of the Baltic Sea.
The Turów mine had a license valid until the end of April 2020. The owner of the open-pit and the power plant, PGE, had applied for its extension. On March 20, 2020, despite official objections from the Czech Republic and numerous objections from NGOs, local governments and residents of the Czech Republic and Germany, Climate Minister Michał Kurtyka extended the mining license by six years. The document was issued just two weeks after a petition signed by 13,000 people from Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic was submitted to the European Parliament's Petitions Committee, calling on EU authorities to address the issue urgently.
According to the Czech government, mine operations after April 30, 2020, is illegal because the extension process contains a number of violations and is incompatible with EU law.
On November 17, 2020, PGE applied to extend its concession until 2044, which would allow the mining of 289 million tons of lignite.
As in March 2020, this was done quietly, behind the backs of the public, the most concerned institutions, local communities and organizations.
The efforts to extend the concession until 2044 were initiated by PGE at the time when the European Commission was considering a Czech complaint regarding the operation of the open cast mine. It is worth noting here that in its reasoned opinion from December 17, 2020, the EC stated, among other things, that in March 2020 "the Polish authorities incorrectly applied the provisions of the access to information directive with regard to informing the public and member states participating in cross-border consultations, access to justice, and the principle of loyal cooperation enshrined in Article 4(3) of the Treaty on European Union.
The opinion issued by the EC was underestimated by PiS deputies during a joint meeting of three parliamentary committees: for Energy, Climate and State Assets, Environmental Protection, Natural Resources and Forestry, and Foreign Affairs on March 30, 2021.
On April 29, the Minister of Environment and Climate Michał Kurtyka issued a license for the Turów open-pit until 2044. Despite the fact that the previous concession is still valid for five years and the fate of Turow was at stake in the CJEU. In addition, PGE, which has applied for the open pit, plans to transfer coal assets, including Turow, to NABE in 2022.
September 30, 2020. The Ministries of the Environment and Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic have sent a complaint to the European Commission over the expansion of Poland's Turow lignite mine. The Czech authorities claimed that Poland had failed to fulfil its obligations under four European Directives and directly under the EU Treaty in connection with the extension of the mining concession and the extension permit.
On 17 December 2020, after hearing both sides of the dispute, the Commission adopted a reasoned opinion concluding that Poland had committed some violations of EU law that the Czech Republic had raised in its complaint. This opened the possibility of referring the case to the CJEU. However, a settlement between the neighbors was still possible at this point. Mediation began and failed.
On February 17, 2021, after the Czech delegation visit Warsaw, local authorities in the Liberec region announced that they want the Czech government to sue Poland in the CJEU for water loss in border communities located within the scope of the Turów lignite mine’s depression funnel and will talk to the Czech Ministry of the Environment. Measurements by the Czech Geological Survey confirmed water loss in areas along the border, primarily in the Uhelná village area.
On February 22, 2021, the Czech government said it would sue Poland in the Court of Justice.
On February 26, the Czech Republic filed a lawsuit against Poland at the Court of Justice of the European Union over the expansion of the Turow lignite mine. The Czech government has also requested an injunction to halt mining at Turow pending the CJEU decision. This is the first lawsuit filed against Poland by another member state. Furthermore, the first in the history of the European Union was caused by a negative environmental impact on another member country. Since Poland joined the EU, only four times in history has one member state sued another.
On May 21, 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on the interim measure: "Poland is ordered to cease lignite mining at the Turów mine immediately. The factual and legal allegations raised by the Czech Republic justify the ordering of the requested interim measures."
Poland has not complied with the CJEU ruling. As a result, on September 20, 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) imposed a daily penalty of 500,000 euros (or about 2.3 million zlotys) on Poland for failing to stop mining the Turów coal mine in the Bogatynia municipality. It will continue to accrue until Poland complies with the ruling or the final judgment of the CJEU in the case.
On October 26, 2021, the European Commission asked the Polish government to urgently provide proof of the cessation of lignite mining activities at the Turów mine.
The European Union Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries also announced that the region will receive funds from the Just Transition Fund if the Turow closure date is consistent with European Union goals (i.e.by 2030)
On 12 October 2020, a conference was held in the German city of Zittau to discuss the impact of the Polish Turow opencast mine on groundwater in Saxony. Thomas Zenker, mayor of Zittau, called on Saxony's authorities to follow the Czech Republic example and take legal action against PGE's Turów plans. During the conference, the findings of Dr. Ralf Krupp, a German Hydrogeologist, were presented. They clearly indicate that the Polish opencast is having a negative impact on the water levels of its western neighbors.
On January 21, 2021, a member of Saxony's state parliament, together with citizens and residents of Zittau, filed an official complaint to the European Commission regarding the Polish opencast mine Turów. The reason: the lowering of groundwater levels as a result of the Turów lignite exploitation, which causes a measurable lowering of the ground level under Zitava and leads to the danger of damage to buildings.
In September 2021, the Saxon Ministry of Justice said it had commissioned a Polish law firm to check the legality of the mining concession for Turów.