Legal challenge to massive Polish coal mine

| 5th March 2019
The Zloczew open-cast mine would be Poland’s deepest ever.

This is totally avoidable. Lignite is the dirtiest form of coal and yet state-owned PGE is pulling out all the stops to give it a free pass.

Approval for a huge new coal mine that would leave 3,000 people in search of new homes is being challenged by ClientEarth’s lawyers in Poland.

The Zloczew open-cast mine would be Poland’s deepest ever and, for the first time, use explosives to access the lignite (the dirtiest form of coal) beneath the surface.

The process is set to displace seven billion tonnes of rock, putting the surrounding area at major risk of tremors – as well as serious water and air pollution.

Cone of depression

A project of state-owned energy company PGE, the Zloczew mine would result in the displacement and destruction of 33 villages, including highly specialised modern farms, homes, schools, shops, chapels and fire stations.

The coal from the mine is destined for Belchatow, the notorious mega-polluter and largest lignite-fired coal plant in the world. It burns a tonne of lignite every second and emits over 37 million tonnes of CO2 – the same as a small country – each year.

Ilona Jedrasik, the head of ClientEarth Poland’s energy team, said: “The damage this mine would cause, socially and environmentally, cannot be overstated.

"It is a catastrophe, not just for the thousands of people whose way of life would be bulldozed to make way for it, but for the landmass it will destroy – and all to feed a hugely polluting coal plant. From seismic tremors to chemical leakage, it is extremely hard to see how PGE can justify this project.”

While the pit itself is set to span an area of up to 14km2, the Zloczew mine’s impact on the ground structure - the ‘cone of depression’ – would spread over up to 800km2.

Transition plans

Operations at Zloczew would release five tonnes of mercury, 26 tonnes of cadmium and 168 tonnes of lead – all known neurotoxins and carcinogens – into the environment every year. Add to that its major predicted methane emissions and the project presents an inexcusable environmental and climate threat.

PGE is trying to start construction of the Zloczew mine via a ‘leapfrogging’ mechanism that skips the vital step of securing a final and binding environmental permit.

ClientEarth’s court case challenges the authority’s decision to grant immediate effect to the environmental permit, even though an appeal against the environmental permit is pending and it is not final and binding.

This immediate activation of the permit allows the investor to seek further permits and concessions required to excavate and operate the mine.

Jedrasik added: “While other EU countries announce coal phase-out dates and just transition plans, Poland ploughs ahead with mammoth projects like Zloczew.

"This is totally avoidable. Lignite is the dirtiest form of coal and yet state-owned PGE is pulling out all the stops to give it a free pass.”

This article

This article is based on a press release from ClientEarth. Image is Bełchatów lignite coal mine.

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