The ministers of foreign affairs of Poland and of Czech Republic met on Friday, February 12 in Warsaw. The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized that the main topic of the talks was “the protection of the Czech citizens who live on the boarder and whose lives are impacted by the expanding coal mine Turów”. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not mention Turów in its official statement. A day after the meeting there was a protest on the boarder.
1. An eloquent silence
Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tomáš Petříček, on February 12 had a meeting in Warsaw with minister Zbigniew Rau on the planned expansion of the coal mine Turów, which as emphasized by the Czech side, does not comply with the European law. It was communicated by the Czech media and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Czech Republic. The latter indicated that Turów was the main topic of the talks.
However, not a single word about Turów can be found in the official communication of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland about the visit of the head of the Czech diplomacy. Quite the contrary, it lists several other topics discussed during the visit. Apparently, the issue of concession, which may be taken up by CJEU, does not seem important enough for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to bring it up.
In the meanwhile, The Czechs inform that their head of diplomacy provided the Polish side with a list of conditions whose fulfillment could lessen the threat of Poland being sued to the European Court of Justice: “construction of a protective wall, which would serve as a shield for the increased amount of dust; 175 million CZK of financial compensation for the loss of water near Uhelná, a commitment to continue the negotiations on the construction of alternative water sources on the affected areas (estimated price 800 million CZK); creation of a fund to finance smaller protection projects (2.5 million CZK); creation of an intergovernmental committee to assess the impact of mining on regular basis”.
Prior to the visit in Warsaw, Petříček stressed that this visit “is the last gesture of our goodwill to express the willingness to settle down before filing the lawsuit”. Marcin Smolek, the deputy of the Legal and Consular Department, pointed out that the text of the lawsuit and “the proposal of the preliminary measure to suspend the excavation immediately” are being drafted. As he stressed, in February the Czech Republic government will decide whether to file the lawsuit or not.
Another visitant in Warsaw was Vladislav Smrž, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic. “Today I had the opportunity to explain to the Polish side the requirements of the Liberec Region, including the need to supply its residents with potable water. I also informed them, that the Czech government will decide on the next steps by the end of February. It is regrettable that we could not act at the environment ministers’ level. The only thing offered by the Polish side were the negotiations between the deputy ministers. On the other hand, we had the opportunity to discuss those earlier mentioned requirements and the promise, that Poland will soon express its opinion.” - commented Vladislav Smrž, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of the Environment cited by the Czech Republic Embassy in Warsaw.
2. Protest in defense of life and health
On Saturday, 13 February 2021, there was an international protest at the tripoint of Poland, Czech Republic and Germany. Its objective is to drag attention to the threat to health imposed by the coal mine and power station Turów. Every year the air contaminated by the emission of suspended particulates causes chronic respiratory and heart diseases. Every year 120 people die prematurely because of the pollution from the lignite burnt at Turów power plant.
The protesters demanded our health to finally turn into the priority over the short-term profits of huge corporations. The tragic influence of Turów on people’s health is also causing concern among the specialists gathered around the Doctors for Climate initiative.
- How many more people have to die, be hospitalized, be on long-term medication? - How many people have to stop working due to illness? How many children will spend their childhood being treated for diseases caused by getting energy from coal? - asked Professor Tadeusz Zielonka, a renowned pulmonologist from Warsaw.
The protest organizers stressed that their demands concern not solemnly Turów. These three countries to a huge degree relay on burning lignite in their energy flow, and they have to abandon this deadly fuel.
- Turów affects us personally because we live in the tri-border area. However, our criticism should neither be mistaken for a protest against Poland nor against the Polish people. We have exceptionally good neighbor relations and we perceive them as a great asset. - claimed Celeste Regina Fischer, the Spokesperson for Greenpeace Oberlausitz
- We strongly urge our Czech government to take legal actions at the EU level regarding the latest developments. But also our Czech coal-fired power stations must be shut down quickly and replaced with clean energy sources. - said Nikol Krejčová, Greenpeace Czech Republic.
3. Will ICPO prepare solutions to water problems?
On February 16-17 there was a meeting of the working group G1 of The International Commission on the Protection of the Oder against Pollution. Prior to the beginning of the meeting, the delegates received a letter of appeal. In that letter non-governmental organizations, local government officials and members of parliament asked for solutions to serious water problems caused by mining.
Working on solutions should be the logical consequence of the decision made by the delegates in November 2020. Back then, also under the influence of the appeal, IPCO recognized Turów and whole lignite mining as a cross-border problem.
Mining drainages lead to widespread depression funnels and severely affect the hydrology of the regions where lignite mining is in use. A significant decrease in the groundwater levels around the mines may affect the availability of water for municipal purposes. This what happened in the vicinity of the Turów mine in the Czech Liberec region. And on the Polish side in Bogatynia municipality, there was a water intake that dried up in 2018.
The signatories of the letter also drew attention to the pollutions from the coal basins (both Polish and German) that get into the rivers and may affect their chemical and ecological status, as well as to the matter of revegetation.
“The flooding of the pits will take much longer than assumed in the official plans.” For instance, flooding of the Turów mine might take even more than 100 years, contrary to the operators estimate of 35-37 years. Apart from the increased demand for water within this period, it also means that the problem of acid mine drainage will also last longer - as written in the letter.