Media release: 03 December 2020

ClientEarth joins legal action against Germany’s newest coal plant

Environmental law charity ClientEarth is joining German locals as they take a legal challenge against controversial new coal plant Datteln IV, near Dortmund. The plant has been built on residents’ doorstep – and in the direct vicinity of a children’s hospital.

The news comes as parent company Fortum publishes its annual business strategy – with no mention of an earlier end date for Datteln IV.

The plant came online in May this year as Germany agreed its coal exit law – and after Fortum had positioned itself in opposition to coal expansion.

Pollution from the plant is endangering the health of the local residents and posing a major risk to nature in the surrounding area.

Coal is one of the biggest global causes of climate change. But beyond the climate burden of the plant, the installation emits mercury, arsenic, lead and cadmium, polluting the air and water and presenting health threats from cancer to neurological disorders.

An additional threat to residents may be Legionnaire’s disease, as bacteria collects in airborne water droplets from cooling towers.

Prompted by the looming health issues posed by the plant, more than 50 people formed an interest group, to oppose the plant and support the villagers.

Rainer Köster, a long-term resident of Datteln, is part of this group. He says he is fighting for a planet worth living on for future generations, including his children and grandchildren.

Mr Köster said: “The chimney is 180 metres high and I can see it from my garden. It’s a constant reminder of the toxic emissions coming from the plant, so I no longer want to take my grandchildren outside to plant vegetables with me.

“Although there’s been success after success in court, Datteln IV went ahead regardless. We feel abandoned by politicians and are deeply concerned for our future.”

Legal action against the Datteln IV project has been ongoing for ten years – and achieved success, with the permits for the plant being invalidated. But the plant still went online and has become a symbol for Germany’s botched coal phase-out.

ClientEarth lawyer Francesca Mascha Klein said: “The fact that Datteln IV went online shows that political actors are unwilling to listen either to climate truths or solid court judgments. This position fails civil society and the planet.”

Datteln IV is no longer needed for the energy security of the region – nor does initial backer Deutsche Bahn want the energy it is producing, moving instead to renewable power.

Lawyers and experts have also called on Finland’s Fortum to halt the project.

Klein said: “Today, there is a wide acceptance that we urgently must bring carbon emissions down – which means exiting coal. The German government, local authorities, and Datteln IV’s owners all have a mandate to move beyond this outdated fuel.

“This means this challenge has even better prospects – the legal and political fight over Datteln IV is taking place in a different context today. Another court win would spell the end for Datteln IV.”


Notes to editors:

Corporate background

Finnish-owned Fortum has declared itself to be moving beyond coal, but acquired Uniper, Datteln IV’s operator, notwithstanding.

Investors have already expressed frank dissatisfaction over Datteln IV. A joint letter reads:

“We believe opening the plant is not compatible with an ambitious decarbonisation trajectory and endangers the 2030 deadline for phasing out coal in the OECD – required to keep emissions within the critical 1.5°C carbon budget.”

Finland’s Environment Minister issued a public statement of displeasure over state-owned Fortum’s acquisition of the Datteln IV project. She tweeted (here in translation):

For the sake of the climate we have to get rid of coal plants, not open new ones. I encourage Fortum to actively seek a solution in order to ensure that its subsidiary Uniper withholds from opening the new Datteln coal plant. I have discussed the German coal phase-out plans with the German Greens. 3/3

Datteln IV sources its coal mainly from Russia but also from Colombia, raising serious human rights concerns.


Legal action

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth are supporting the residents of Datteln IV with their current challenge. In a parallel intervention, Friends of the Earth Germany – North Rhine-Westphalia e.V. (BUND NRW) is also taking action against the plant.

Already in 2005, plans to build the hard coal plant were being met with resistance. An initial challenge by residents saw the plans for the plant overturned. An injunction by BUND NRW in 2009 to stop construction, and the application to revoke the preliminary permit in 2012, were both successful in court. This removed the legal justification for the plant.

However, instead of stopping construction, Datteln’s authorities instead came up with a new set of plans and issued fresh approval on that basis.

The current challenges are against these new plans and approvals.

Local and regional resistance to coal in Germany is growing, with many either living next door to coal facilities or facing eviction to make way for them. ClientEarth is also supporting Menschenrecht vor Bergrecht, a group of villagers in North Rhine-Westphalia who are fighting in court to save their homes from mine expansion.

About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.