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Poland refuses to halt Turow coal mine despite 500,000 euro daily penalty

Poland vowed to keep its disputed Turow coal mine running despite being hit with an order to pay a 500,000 euro ($585,550) daily penalty to the European Commission for defying an earlier court ruling to halt operations. Europe’s top court, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), ordered the penalty on Monday.

It followed a request from the Czech Republic, which is locked in a dragging dispute with Poland over the Turow open-pit mine that sits next to their shared border. The Czech government says the mine is damaging its communities. The mine, which produces lignite, or brown coal, has been operating for more than a century but has recently expanded further towards the Czech border.

The penalty order could pressure Warsaw to seek a resolution with Prague after bilateral talks started in June over technical upgrades and measures to limit damage to water levels and noise and air conditions. A deal should end any legal disputes.

The Polish government said the EU court’s penalty on Monday undermined those talks and said Turow, a major source of jobs and electricity in its region, would continue operations. “The fine mentioned by the Court of Justice of the European Union is disproportionate to the situation and is not justified by facts,” Poland’s government said in a statement. “It undermines the ongoing process of reaching an amicable settlement.”

Had Warsaw breached EU law?

The Czech Republic has taken its grievance over Turow to the Commission, which last year started legal proceedings, saying Warsaw had breached EU law when extending the mine’s life. The country also took its case to the CJEU and won judges’ backing for a temporary order to stop Turow’s operations until a final judgment.

When Warsaw rejected a halt, Prague asked for a daily penalty payment of 5 million euros to be levied. The court on Monday agreed but set the fine much lower. “Such a measure appears necessary to strengthen the effectiveness of the interim measures decided upon in the order of 21 May 2021 and to deter that member state from delaying bringing its conduct into line with that order,” judges said.

Prague welcomed the penalty but said it still wanted to reach an agreement amicably. Some Polish officials strongly rejected the order. “The CJEU 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,” deputy justice minister Marcin Romanowski said on Twitter. “It is judicial robbery and theft in broad daylight. You won’t get a cent.”

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