23 Aug 2018, 18:15
Sven Egenter

Coal commission keeps out of lignite mine expansion dispute

Germany’s coal commission will not give any recommendation regarding mining-owner RWE’s plans to continue clearing forest for the planned extension of the Hambach lignite mine in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The country's environment minister however called on RWE to abstain from clearing forest until the commission had finished its work. In its third meeting, the commission heard experts’ views on the implications of the country’s climate goals for the coal sector. [Adds comments from environment minister]

Germany’s coal commission will not comment on the planned clearing of the Hambach forest for an extension of a lignite mine, the commission’s chairs said in a statement on Thursday following its third session. The four chairs did not see the controversial issue as part of the group’s mandate and should therefore not give any recommendation, they said. The commission supported this view, although individual members had argued for a discussion, they said.

However, Germany's environment minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) called on RWE to abstain from clearing any forest until the commission had finished its work. "When a societal consensus is being organised, we cannot create faits accomplis in such a phase," she said according to report on the website of Germany's public broadcaster ARD. "That would be as unacceptable as if we just enpassant decided to shut down a power plant during those talks." RWE reacted with surprised about the remarks, according to the report, pointing to the commission's statement and the fact that they had told the minister before that the clearing was necessary to secure lignite supply from the Hambach mine in the short run.

The commission’s meeting had been overshadowed by utility RWE’s announcement to resume expansion of the Hambach lignite mine near Cologne despite calls for a moratorium for logging and the demolition of several small villages standing in the mine’s way, signed by more than a dozen environmental and citizens’ groups. RWE argues pausing expansion would threaten the supply security of its lignite plants in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and, indeed, of the entire federal state.

Ahead of the meeting, environmental group and commission member BUND had threatened to withdraw from the commission if clearing of the forest begins. The group filed a lawsuit to achieve a stop of logging activities in court, as it already managed in the past. Commission member Reiner Priggen, head of the renewable energies association in NRW and Green Party member, had called the planned logging "an affront against the commission.” [Read the Clean Energy Wire's preview of the meeting here]

The four chairs of the commission said that the focus of the session on 23 August was on the implications that the government’s climate goals had for the coal industry. Among the experts were the authors of the industry association BDI’s landmark study on decarbonisation pathways and two members of the government’s Energiewende monitoring commission. The commission also analysed existing government programmes that supported structural change.

The commission will continue its work on 29 August and 18 September.

The government installed the commission to come up with a pathway to end the use of coal for power generation while managing the inevitable structural change in the coal mining regions. The group plans to present first results by the time of the global climate conference COP24 in the Polish city of Katowice in December. [For background, read the CLEW factsheet on the coal commission]

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