Polish, Czech leaders seek to resolve spat over coal mine


WARSAW, Poland — Intensive talks were being held Tuesday between leaders of Poland and neighboring Czech Republic in an attempt to solve a years-long spat over a Polish coal mine that has flared up recently.

The Czech government says the brown coal mine in Turow, a Polish town near the Czech and German borders, is draining groundwater from Czech communities and causing other environmental harm to Czech citizens.

It took the case to the top European Union court, which last week ordered Poland to halt coal extraction at the site. But Poland has so far defied the court’s order, saying it cannot close the mine because doing so would lead to power cuts for millions of Poles and eliminate thousands of jobs. The mine directly fuels a power plant that produces up to 7% of Poland’s energy.

The spat underlines coal’s potential as an irritant in relations among EU nations as the bloc has set an ambitious goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Poland has been making some progress toward developing green energy, but the process has been slow and hampered by the country’s historic dependence on coal to heat homes and power its factories.

The Polish government recently extended the license for extraction of coal at Turow until 2044. The Czechs say the Poles did that without consulting them, something the Polish government denies.

The Polish decision to keep extracting beyond 2030 also means that the region around Turow will lose out on its share of the EU’s multibillion-euro “Just Transition” fund aimed at supporting communities which transition from coal to green energy.

Polish and Czech leaders and other officials were holding talks on the issue during an EU summit in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday and elsewhere.

They suggested an agreement could be reached soon that would focus on addressing Prague’s concerns that the Turow lignite mine was draining groundwater from Czech territory. On that basis, Prague was expected to withdraw its complaint with the EU court.

Meanwhile, some Poles were planning to carry out a blockade along the Czech border on Tuesday afternoon to protest what they consider a harmful decision to close the Polish mine.

Some 48% of Poland’s energy comes from hard black coal and 17% from softer and more polluting brown coal, or lignite. Another 25% comes from various renewable sources and biofuels and 10% comes from gas and other sources.

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