Czech talks with Poland over disputed Turow coal mine inch forward

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The Turow open-pit coal mine operated by the company PGE is seen in Bogatynia, Poland, June 15, 2021. Picture taken June 15, 2021. REUTERS/David W Cerny

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PRAGUE, July 13 (Reuters) - The Czech Republic and Poland's talks over the disputed Polish open-pit coal mine Turow are progressing, a Czech deputy environment minister said on Tuesday, with expert groups aiming to hammer out technical issues this week before higher level meetings next Thursday.

The Czech government's lawsuit against Poland, filed at the European Union's Court of Justice in February, has opened a dragging dispute between the central European allies, hitting at the environmental costs of coal mining. read more

The Czechs have said mining at Turow, which sits directly next to the border, is sucking up water supplies and damaging Czech communities nearby.

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With Warsaw seeking to have the Czechs withdraw the lawsuit, talks over a deal seeking financial compensation and technical improvements to safeguard the area around the mine, and keeping it operating, started last week - and have been described as tough on both sides.

Czech Deputy Environment Minister Vladislav Smrz said on Tuesday that the talks had become more productive after they were split into three expert groups looking at the impact on air, noise and water.

Those groups should reach some conclusions by Friday before higher level talks continue next week.

"There are still open provisions that need to be discussed, but we made certain progress today," Smrz said. "On (next) Thursday hopefully we will be able to say we have an agreement on technical issues."

Poland's Climate Ministry also said on Tuesday that the working groups' "outcome will determine the further course of talks."

Other aspects of a deal will still remain, including how any deal would be enforced, which the Czech side has called a "red line".

The Czechs have sought a daily penalty of 5 million euros from Poland for failing to heed a Court of Justice order in May to halt mining at Turow, which is operated by state utility PGE (PGE.WA), until the Czech case is decided.

Poland generates around 70% of its electricity from coal and was the only EU country in 2019 that did not commit to the goal of cutting the bloc's net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

Warsaw, which in April extended a mining concession to Turow until 2044, has acknowledged a switch to cleaner fuels is inevitable and has taken steps to reduce carbon emissions, but activists say it needs to act faster.

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Reporting by Jason Hovet, additional reporting by Anna Koper and Alicja Ptak in Warsaw Editing by Paul Simao

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