A state court in North Rhine-Westphalia has ruled in favour of German utility company RWE in a land dispute linked to expanding its Garzweiler lignite open-cast mine located in the German hamlet of Lützerath, as Clean Energy Wire reported.
The decision has been heavily criticised by German environmental movements, given lignite (brown coal) is a known air pollutant and fossil fuel, and the appropriation needed for the mine may conflict with the country’s energy goals.
The farmland owner, which borders the open-cast mine, and two tenants had sought to stop RWE’s takeover of the property. Yet, coal is crucial for Germany to weather a potential stop in the supply of Russian gas as large amounts of coal power plants would be used to make up the shortfall.
“Coal will play a crucial role,” explained Olaf Lies, the energy minister of Lower Saxony, on behalf of his 15 fellow energy ministers after consultations. “If we want to be more independent, we will have to operate with coal,” Lies said.
“That we choose this phrase once again is certainly not entirely self-evident given the country’s plan to phase out coal by 2030,” he added during a press conference on Tuesday (8 March).
The North Rhine-Westphalian Higher Administrative Court (OVG) in Münster rejected the lawsuit and said RWE was now free to make preparations to clear the site of trees and buildings and excavate the land for lignite.
The court thus upheld an earlier ruling by the Aachen Administrative Court. The Münster court said its verdict favouring lignite mining was compatible with the constitutional requirement to protect the climate.
In addition, it noted that the farmer’s complaint did not show that there were alternative open-cast mines to meet necessary, brown coal demands, sparing his property without forcing the confiscation of other private land.
The court also decided to allow mining operations to continue in the region because two power plants that use coal from the Garzweiler mine cannot be otherwise replaced, if at all, “without great effort”.
“The ruling is completely anachronistic. Climate protection played no role at all in the court’s reasoning,” commented David Dresen on behalf of the initiative “Alle Dörfer bleiben” (all hamlets stay).
The legal fight over whether the utility can bulldoze the hamlet comes at a time when the conservative CDU are gearing up to maintain their hold on North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) against their rivals of the social democrat SPD.
On 15 May, voters in Germany’s largest state, NRW, will head to the polls, and the outcome is considered a watershed moment in the reign of the newish German government led by the SPD and Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
On the other hand, the ruling is considered to conflict with the newish government’s green partners, aiming for a coal exit as soon as 2030, which may make the expropriation unneeded.
[Clean Energy Wire’s Edgar Meza contributed reporting]
[Edited by Alice Taylor]