The decision, which allows the mine to continue operating for the time being, was welcomed by the Polish government. However, the environmental groups that brought the case have expressed disappointment that the proceedings will drag on further.
It marks the latest twist in a long-running legal battle over the mine, which has also drawn in Poland’s neighbours, the Czech Republic and Germany, whose borders are close to Turów.
The provincial administrative court in Warsaw had yesterday been due to rule on the environmental decision that granted Turów, an open pit brown coal mine that feeds a nearby power station, a concession to operate until 2044.
Instead, the court suspended the case because parallel proceedings before the General Directorate for Environmental Protection (GDOŚ) regarding an application from the mine’s owner – state-owned energy firm PGE – to amend the environmental decision have not been concluded.
The judge noted that PGE recently withdrew its bid to amend the environmental decision, which led GDOŚ to discontinue proceedings. However, she stressed that, until the discontinuation becomes final and binding, the administrative court cannot rule on the legality of the permit.
This development was welcomed by government figures, who argue that the mine and power plant in Turów are essential for Poland’s energy security.
“The fight for Turow continues,” wrote climate minister Anna Moskwa. State assets minister Jacek Sasin called it “a key decision for Poland’s energy security”, adding that “the functioning of the mine is not threatened and the mining concession is valid until 2044”.
Even before the ruling was issued, Moskwa had insisted that the mine would remain open whatever happened. “Obviously, regardless of this ruling and decision – because we have different experiences – Turow will not be closed. We will defend energy security,” she told Polskie Radio.
A lawyer from one of the environmental groups that has challenged the legality of the environmental decision, Agnieszka Stupkiewicz of Frank Bold, admitted that the court had no choice but to suspend proceedings.
However, she criticised the “scandalous” behaviour GDOŚ, saying that the agency had not kept parties in the case nor the administrative court informed of PGE’s decision to withdraw its bid to amend the environmental decision.
Her group and other climate organisations from Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany brought their case against the environmental decision last year, arguing that there were a number of shortcomings in how it was reached, including a failure to take account of the mine’s impact on the climate.
In July, the provincial administrative court in Warsaw ordered the environmental permit to be provisionally suspended ahead of a final ruling, finding that there is a risk of significant environmental damage.
That decision was, however, later overturned by the Supreme Administrative Court. It meant that the mine was allowed to continue functioning until a final ruling on the environmental decision is issued by the Warsaw court.
Meanwhile, yesterday’s decision by the court to suspend proceedings was welcomed PGE’s CEO, Wojciech Dąbrowski, who said that “Turów mine and power plant will remain one of Poland’s most important sources of energy for at least 20 years”.
“From the very beginning, we have not recognised the legitimacy of any allegations made against the environmental decision on the Turów mine,” he added.
His comments come just a day after PGE presented a new strategy to become carbon neutral by 2040, including abandoning the use of coal by 2030. That will be achieved in part by a government plan to transfer energy firm’s coal assets to a single, separate entity.