Poland’s rightwing government has said it will continue to mine coal on its border with the Czech Republic despite being ordered to pay €500,000 for every day that it defies a European court of justice order to stop.
The fine was issued by the EU’s highest court on Monday after four months of Warsaw ignoring an earlier order to suspend extraction of lignite, a low-quality brown coal, at the Turów opencast mine in south-west Poland.
The government said it would continue to operate Turów, arguing that its suspension would put the country’s energy security at risk. The mine fuels a power station providing about 7% of the country’s electricity supply. It employs about 3,600 people.
“The fine mentioned by the [court] is disproportionate to the situation and is not justified by facts,” a government spokesperson said. “It undermines the ongoing process of reaching an amicable settlement.v
Marcin Romanowski, a justice minister, tweeted: “The [ECJ] demands half a million daily fines from Poland for the fact that Poland did not leave its citizens without energy and did not close the mines overnight. It is judicial robbery and theft in broad daylight. You won’t get a cent.”
Negotiations are ongoing between Poland and the Czech Republic over a compromise solution and the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has said he wants an amicable end to the dispute.
Communities in Germany and the Czech Republic have long blamed Turów, owned by the state-owned utility company PGE, for draining their groundwater and causing dangerous levels of air and noise pollution. The mine has been in operation since 1904.
In April Poland’s minister for the climate and environment, Michał Kurtyka, extended the mining licence in Turów, valid until 2026, until 2044, when the coal deposits are expected to be fully depleted.
The Czech government took the case to the ECJ in February and it successfully argued in May that the mine was creating a cross-border environmental hazard.
Prague asked the court to fine Poland €5m per day for failing to halt production at the mine.
The court did not fully satisfy the Czech government’s request but did order that “due to the continuation of lignite mining in the Turów mine, Poland is obliged to pay the European Commission a periodic penalty payment of €500,000 a day.”
It added: “Such a measure should be considered necessary to strengthen the effectiveness of the interim measure ordered by the order of 21 May 2021 and to prevent this member state from delaying its compliance with that provision.”
Poland relies on coal to meet up to 80% of its energy but it has agreed to shut its last mine by 2049, in line with targets for emissions cuts set by the EU. In 2019 lignite burned at Turów’s electricity plant produced 5.5m tonnes of CO2, making it the fifth largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Poland.
The largest fine ordered by the ECJ before Monday is believed to have been in 2015 when the Italian government was told to pay €120,000 per day of delay in complying with a 2010 judgment on waste disposal, plus a lump sum of €20m.