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24 Mar 2021, 13:08
Charlotte Nijhuis

Resettlement of villages to expand German lignite mine postponed until 2026

Clean Energy Wire

The controversial resettlement of five villages in western Germany for the expansion of a lignite mine is postponed until 2026, the regional government announced on Tuesday. This decision was part of a review on planned lignite mining by the government of North Rhine-Westphalia in which it also authorised further mining in the Garzweiler II open-cast mine before the complete coal phase-out by 2038. The decision downsizes all three opencast lignite mines and foresees an early phase-out for two of the three by the end of 2029, the state economy ministry said. The final decision gives the villages a reprieve until 2026, instead of the previous date of 2024 that mining operator RWE had planned. Before that time, there is to be another assessment of the necessity of the resettlement. “This gives more respite,” said economy minister Andreas Pinkwart in a press conference on Tuesday. The Hambach Forest, which borders the mine and has been a symbolic climate policy battleground, will be saved.

On Tuesday, Greenpeace staged a protest at the entrance of the state parliament in Düsseldorf. The coal decision “pours oil on the fire of the climate crisis”, said Greenpeace activist Bastian Neuwirth. The decision means that “villages will be destroyed and climate targets will be jeopardised”, Neuwirth said. The NGO network Climate-Alliance Germany criticised the decision in a press release, arguing that it “contradicts a climate and socially just exit from lignite”. According to the network, the government “largely failed” to pacify the conflict in the Rhenish mining region and concludes that “the state government under Armin Laschet is once again putting the wishes of the lignite company RWE before those of the people in the region”. 

The state’s decision lays the legal foundation for further lignite mining in the Rhenish mining area. New legislation became necessary after the coal-exit law ordered the end of coal production in Germany at no later than 2038. The Garzweiler mine was granted special treatment in the coal-exit legislation due to its purported necessity for power supply security in the region. The final decision is based on a draft from last autumn, which was met by fierce criticism from residents and environmental groups.

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