11 Jan 2021, 13:49
Kerstine Appunn

German environment agency hires mining firm subsidiary to assess renaturation costs

Spiegel Online

Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA) has commissioned a sensitive study on water needs for the renaturation of lignite coal mines from a subsidiary of mining company LEAG, Susanne Götze reports in Spiegel Online. Critics say that the report drafted by GMB could mean that the outcome would be favourable to LEAG, which is responsible for the renaturation of landscapes destroyed by lignite mining. For shutting its mines by 2038, LEAG receives 1.75 billion euros in compensation. The company has to use this money towards renaturation and foot the bill for any extra costs itself, Götze writes.

What could become particularly expensive is water management – some 5.5 billion cubic metres will be needed to flood the open cast mines and create over 30 new lakes in eastern Germany – but water is in short supply, especially if water loss continues as it has during the summer draughts of the past years, Götze says. Water shortage could even affect Berlin, 200 km away from the mining region of Lusatia, if river water is used to fill the lakes, experts warn. If the GMB study and others find that the problem is partially due to climate change rather than to mining activities, LEAG could argue that it doesn’t have to cover the whole cost itself, Götze explains.

The UBA official responsible for the project commented: "The fact that GMB belongs to LEAG is not an exclusion criterion in the award procedure.” The research project would be conducted "neutrally and with an open mind."

In 2020, Germany’s coal exit plan became law, stipulating the phase-out of coal-fired power generation by 2038 at the latest. It also details a shutdown schedule for individual lignite power plants and stipulates compensation payments for operators.

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