Will the Provincial Administrative Court's decision regarding Turów encourage trade unionists to protest? “The verdict is scandalous and shameful” (INTERVIEW)

Luc Williams

Are employees of the Turów Mine afraid for their jobs after the judgment of the Provincial Administrative Court, which invalidated the coal mining license?

Of course, we are afraid for the jobs of the Turów Brown Coal Mine employees and all those dependent on the mine and power plant. This verdict is scandalous and shameful, it attacks society and undermines the rule of law. We do not agree that anyone, based on the Polish-Czech agreement, has objections to the fact that the concession later issued by the General Directorate for Environmental Protection did not include any provisions on the construction of embankments or filtration screens.

Some people hoped that the judgment of the Provincial Administrative Court would be favorable for Turów. Everything pointed to this. However, with the farmers' protest, we expected it to be what it was. It was originally supposed to be released on March 6, but then there were farmers' protests in which Solidarity also took part. Issuing such a verdict during the protests would pose a risk of escalating the conflict on the streets of Warsaw. Since then, there has been a time of uncertainty. This does not change the fact that this judgment has no impact on jobs and Poland's energy security. This is shown by the government's attitude towards us – as if we were unwanted. We have not heard the Minister of State Assets or the Minister of Industry comment on this judgment in the media. Previously, when the mine was threatened with closure in 2021, the then government assured that they would defend Turów. Now there is silence on this matter, as if we were stuck.

The provision in the judgment that we can continue working does not comfort us – Polish law says that the deposit must be exploited until the end. If this were applied, we could work even after 2044. We understand that we need to move away from coal, but not like this. Last year, protective solutions were introduced for miners in Konin, so that they could benefit from it as soon as possible, and it looks like we will be the first to use it.

Can we expect protests in the union after the court's verdict?

Currently, the analysis is ongoing and the justification for the judgment is awaited. We do not know what will be included in the justification – whether it will include a proposal to remove the deficiencies in the license, or just an indication that we have the right to appeal to a higher authority. We certainly do not expect any major protests before the justification is given, and then we will wait for the owner's decision on whether to appeal against the judgment. We need to talk to the owner and the ministry to see what they think about it, before justifying it. We, on the trade union side, have become even more vigilant. I would not like a situation to arise in which someone makes decisions without understanding the analyzes and then sees what will happen to our energy system when there is no electricity from Turów. Without this power plant, electricity prices will increase because we will have to import more. Perhaps a strike lasting several days will show this.

How will you respond to the complainants' arguments that funds from the Just Transition Fund will help solve the problem of the lack of jobs in Turów after the closure of the mine?

The so-called Turoszów Sack is a specific region – I don't know, although it's obviously an abstraction, what would happen if this piece of Poland was incorporated into Germany. I suppose that then we could easily extract coal beyond 2026, perhaps even until the deposit is exhausted. Germany certainly has reason to be happy about this verdict. A dozen or so kilometers from the mine on the German side, in the town of Zittau, there were underground workings for several dozen, and now they are suing the mine in Turów, saying that houses there are cracking and water is losing.

If the mine and power plant are closed, unemployment in the region will be dramatic. We have a special economic zone, but vegetables are grown there. There is no work in the area in Poland, but there is work in the Czech Republic and Germany – for example, assembling shoes, where many residents of Zgorzelec work. If we stop mining, thousands of people will lose their jobs, and only a handful will remain who, in the coming years, will secure the excavation, perform drainage works, and secure the course of the Nysa, which flows nearby. This is what liquidation will look like.

When do you think coal should be phased out and under what conditions?

There was a set date for phasing out coal – 2044. There would be enough coal for much longer. However, we did not receive money for the transformation because, as was argued, the deadline was too distant. No matter how huge an amount we would get to replace jobs for miners and power plant workers. We need to think about what we want and can do specifically as part of the transformation, but this is more the role of local governments.

We were waiting for the establishment of the National Energy Security Agency – then the owner of the Turów mine and power plant would be the State Treasury, and Polska Grupa Energetyczna would be able to obtain loans for green investments. This is how it should have been. Over the years, we could extract less and less coal, the oldest units in the power plant would be closed, until the newest unit would be shut down in 2044. Let me remind you that the decision to build the newest unit at the Turów Power Plant was made during the government of the Civic Platform. This block cost PLN 4.6 billion. If, in accordance with the court's ruling, the mine stops extracting coal in 2026, this money will go down the drain. Is this supposed to be economical?


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