At the Bilina mine 50 miles north of Prague, excavators the size of 10-story buildings claw at the earth and scoop out 2,700 tons of brown coal a day to feed the smoke-belching power station on the horizon. After the Czech government relaxed environmental regulations this fall, they’ll be able to keep going for another 40 years.
Some 130 miles away, in eastern Germany, Vattenfall AB’s Jaenschwalde coal pit is preparing to scale back production as the country shifts away from coal and the oldest units of the adjacent power station are scheduled to shut down by 2019.
The two mines highlight Europe’s growing divide on cutting greenhouse gases as global leaders descend on Paris for the biggest climate conference in history. While western Europeans are accelerating the exit from coal, their eastern neighbors, particularly the Czech Republic and Poland, are taking steps to keep mines — even those with only lignite, the dirtiest variety of the fuel — open for decades.
“This is a responsible decision that takes into account the energy security of our country,” Czech Industry and Trade Minister Jan Mladek said after the government extended Bilina’s lifespan. Despite a push from western Europe to limit coal consumption, “electricity will have to be produced somehow.”
The divide largely follows the old fault lines of the Cold War. In much of the former Communist bloc, coal is the only domestic alternative to oil and gas imported from Russia.
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