Police respond to protests of coal mine expansion in Germany

January 11, 2023

Police were called into the small German village of Lützerath to confront hundreds of protestors who are attempting to block energy giant RWE from razing the settlement to make way for the expansion of a lignite coal mine.

In October, RWE announced plans to expand to the Garzweiler coal mine. The decision to expand coal mining in Germany is the result of an energy crisis created largely by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It also contradicts Chancellor Olaf Scholz's coalition government’s goals to become the greenest government ever.

The Financial Times reported that Lützerath’s fate was sealed in October when the national and local governments struck a deal with RWE to accelerate the phase out of coal in North Rhine-Westphalia, bringing it forward by eight years to 2030.

Five other villages that had been earmarked for destruction were saved. But RWE said that it needed the coal under Lützerath as part of an agreement to keep two lignite-fired power plants running longer than planned in order to compensate for the sudden loss of Russian gas after Gazprom slashed supplies to Europe.

German economy and energy minister Robert Habeck, a Green politician has been charged with defending the government’s decision. He described the deal as a “milestone for climate action” and said that the agreement minimizes extraction, leaving about 280 Mt (308 million st) of lignite that would otherwise have been excavated in the ground.

Habeck, who has also set out plans to aggressively expand renewables in a bid to make Germany carbon neutral by 2045, said that extending the life of coal-fired power plants was “painful, but necessary in view of the gas shortage.”

The edge of the 200-m (656-ft) deep pit is now as little as 30-m (100-ft) from the village.

The eviction, which is headline news in Germany, will be uncomfortable for RWE, a former fossil fuel giant that has sought to rebrand itself as a leading global provider of renewable energy.

It is also profoundly difficult for the Green party, whose ministers in both the federal and local governments played a key role in brokering the deal that doomed Lützerath.

In recent days, activists have used bricks and branches to construct barricades. While some planned to resist passively, others intended to superglue themselves to structures or suspend themselves from tall wooden tripods aimed at making it difficult to remove them.

Photo: RWE's Grazweiler Mine. Credit RWE.


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