Farmer turns to court to block new Bulgarian coal mine

As a Bulgarian coal company prepares to dig an open pit coal mine spanning three villages, a local farmer has launched a legal case to stop it.

Emil Mirchev, who has farmed his family land in Aldomirovtsi for decades, has filed a legal case to have the Bulgarian Council of Ministers’ decision, allowing the mine, overturned. He has received legal assistance from campaigning coalition Za Zemiata Access to Justice and environmental lawyers ClientEarth in preparing the suit.

Villages at risk

Mr Mirchev said: “We are against the mine because its opening will severely damage the quality of life in at least three villages in the region. The mine is near a water catchment area and there is a real danger of polluting it. Also, the heavy transporting equipment to and from the mine will ruin the brand new infrastructure. Mining will put an end to agriculture and farming which are very important for people here. Our fertile land is worth much more to us and our children than the money they will pay us as compensation.”

The ‘Slivnitsa mine’ would eat into an expanse of land of two square kilometres. The main water supplies for villages Barlozhista and Radulovtsi will likely be destroyed and two popular lakes in Bratushkovo and Radulovtsi, used by sports enthusiasts and holidaymakers, drained and bulldozed.

No future for coal

The mine is slated to be open for 30 years, despite the economic case for coal rapidly disappearing across Europe and stark warnings from international climate experts that no coal capacity should remain open in the OECD countries beyond 2030.

The mine would feed notoriously dangerous coal power plant Bobov Dol, a major polluter in south-western Bulgaria. This raises great concern for people’s health across Bulgaria, and for the climate.

Mr Mirchev is taking action to stop the mine – but his determination to stop the destruction of the local landscape and villages represents the strong wish of most who live there for this mine not to go ahead. The decision approving the mine was made with only a two-week window for affected landowners to take action against it – and many were not even aware that it had happened.

Compensation promised is cold comfort

As a compromise for allowing the mine, the municipality of Slivnitsa is expected to receive a small annual concession fee of €9,200. This figure is disproportionately small compared to the losses the municipality will suffer from missed business opportunities, the destruction of a popular recreation area, expenses for road maintenance, and the deterioration of the environment.

Mirchev added: “I have been to the Beli Bryag coal mine in the next municipality – it makes a dreadful picture. In the past, they expropriated and excavated villages there to make way for the mine. I don’t want this fate for my land.”

As Mirchev launches the case, the town is protesting too. A petition is circulating, signed by the mayor himself.

ClientEarth lawyer Dominique Doyle said: “Europe is moving away from coal and this mine, set to be open for 30 years, cannot be justified.

“Looking ahead, we may see the EU legislate to move the bloc beyond coal – investment in a mine like this, with such a devastating impact for the surrounding area and thousands of people, is exceptionally short-sighted.”

Opportunities demolished

According to the mayor, three large companies are about to open facilities there. All of these – and the associated job opportunities – could be wiped out and the region could become much less attractive to future investors, if the mine opens.

Za Zemiata Access to Justice campaigner Genady Kondarev said: “This is a major case and the fate of multiple communities hangs on its outcome. This mine will not only decimate beautiful land that people have been cultivating for years and threaten their health – it will feed an incredibly dirty coal plant that is making the lives of hundreds miserable elsewhere.

“Energy developments need to be clean and futureproof. There is no future in coal and it makes this mine a really destructive waste of time, irretrievably ruining more of Bulgaria’s beautiful countryside and people’s livelihoods.”

The Bulgarian coal industry has been under fire for the vast government subsidies it receives, unsafe working conditions and unjustifiable pollution affecting towns all over the country.

Za Zemiata Access to Justice is a campaigning coalition comprised of staff from Greenpeace Bulgaria, Za Zemiata (Friends of the Earth Bulgaria) and Bankwatch.

Ms Dominique Doyle is an Australian-qualified lawyer.

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