05 Feb 2019, 13:25
Benjamin Wehrmann

RWE signals Hambach Forest could be saved as NRW government chides protesters

Süddeutsche Zeitung / Welt Online

The embattled Hambach Forest, which has become a symbolic place for anti-coal protesters in Germany, might not be cut down to make room for a nearby lignite mine, Rolf Martin Schmitz, CEO of energy company RWE, has said at a conference by the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. If the proposal for Germany’s coal phase-out by the country’s coal exit commission is adopted, RWE will “assess if it’s possible” to keep the ancient woodland intact and rearrange its expansion plans for the adjacent open pit mine. While not explicitly calling for its preservation, the commission in its final report said that it would be “desirable” to keep the forest in western German state North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) intact. “I have to repeat that I don’t think this makes a lot of sense,” Schmitz added, as keeping the mine operational would become much more expensive if the forest is spared.
Meanwhile, NRW state premier Armin Laschet criticised protesters who have occupied the forest for several years and called on them to leave. “Illegal occupations are inacceptable,” Laschet said in an article on Welt Online, adding that an ongoing court procedure meant that no clearing would happen this year. “There’s no immediate danger for the forest,” he said.
Large-scale protest at the Hambach Forest put the woodland in the spotlight in October 2018, fuelling the national debate over the pros and cons of an end to coal-fired power production. A court in NRW ruled that the planned clearing operations cannot be carried out before an examination of the forest’s ecologic value has been carried out. A decision is due in the first quarter of 2019.

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