Berlin/Cottbus, 17.03.2022: Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) and GRÜNE LIGA have succeeded in stopping the Jänschwalde opencast lignite mine in court. The Cottbus Administrative Court today ruled in favour of the environmental organisations and suspended the main operating plan for the open-cast lignite mine. The reason is that for years the open-cast mining company LEAG has been pumping out drastically more groundwater than permitted by the water law. The amount is now many times the permitted annual volume. The court grants LEAG a time buffer of almost two months until 14 May to take the necessary safety measures to stop opencast mining. From 15 May, the excavators must then be at a standstill.
"Now there is an opportunity to return to transparent and constitutional procedures for the Jänschwalde opencast mine. The subsequent landscape of the opencast mine must be planned anew in any case, as even LEAG wants to deviate from the previously approved plans. But the procedures for this were dragged out for years and possibilities for reducing the size of the opencast mine were ignored. This is now taking revenge for the company," says René Schuster of the GREEN LIGA.
"What we are concerned about in these proceedings is the protection of the surrounding flora-fauna-habitat areas, which are increasingly suffering from the withdrawal of groundwater by the open-cast mining operation. It is a scandal that enormous amounts were pumped out illegally for years, and it is incomprehensible that a court has to intervene to ensure that the law is observed. Now the operator is also exploiting the war in Ukraine and claiming that open-cast mining must continue for the sake of energy security. This is wrong. The power plants can of course be supplied and operated from other sources. It is irresponsible to unjustifiably scare people with this just because they want to continue dredging and illegally pump water to do so," says Sascha Müller-Kraenner, DUH's national director.
"The Cottbus Administrative Court has fully confirmed our submission: The approval of the operating plan for the Jänschwalde opencast mine flagrantly violates the applicable water law permit and thus cannot stand," summarises Cornelia Nicklas, Head of Legal at DUH.
The goal of all further steps must now be to ensure that the opencast mine only causes the least possible damage to the surrounding protected areas and the water balance in the last few metres, the environmental associations demand. To this end, the still missing and long overdue recultivation concept must finally be presented without delay and aligned with this goal. The court decision has now made it clear that no irreversible facts may be created beforehand.
The decision is not yet legally binding, appeals to the Higher Administrative Court are possible.
The basis for the water-law permit in 1996 was a then planned end of opencast mining in 2019. Therefore, the permit is limited until 2022 and provides for significantly decreasing water withdrawal quantities since 2018. For example, the water-law permit allows 42 million cubic metres to be withdrawn in 2020. However, LEAG has actually pumped out 114.06 million cubic metres, almost three times that amount. In total, the company has now extracted more than 240 million cubic metres more groundwater than permitted in Jänschwalde since 2017.
In the meantime, LEAG has extended coal production, but has not yet applied for an increase in water extraction. Withdrawals of 10 million cubic metres per year or more are subject to an environmental impact assessment, which was apparently circumvented in this case.
There are numerous lakes and wetlands in the vicinity of the Jänschwalde opencast mine that are increasingly affected by the lowering of groundwater levels from the opencast mine. In their FFH impact assessment, LEAG and the State Office for Mining, Geology and Raw Materials assume that although coal production will end in 2023, the maximum groundwater withdrawal from several surrounding protected areas will not occur until 2034. So far, there is no comprehensible justification for LEAG's plan to continue pumping groundwater until 2044. An application for an extension of the water law permit is being prepared, but no participation procedure has taken place so far.
Deutsche Umwelthilfe and GRÜNE LIGA had already taken successful action in 2019 against the main operating plan of the opencast mine at that time, because the compatibility with the surrounding European protected areas had not been examined. The mining authority had to revoke the approval at that time.
Decision of the Court (Anonym) (in German)