German court halts felling of forest for coal mine

FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2018 file photo bucket wheels dig for coal near the Hambach Forest near Dueren, Germany. On Friday, Oct. 5, 2018 a German court has ordered a temporary halt to plans to fell part of a forest in the west of the country to allow the expansion of a coal mine. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, file)

BERLIN (AP) — A German court blocked the felling of an endangered forest Friday, drawing cheers from environmentalists who had protested against the expansion of a nearby coal mine.

The Muenster administrative court issued a temporary halt to the clearing of Hambach Forest, after the BUND environmental group argued it deserves protected status because of the bats that live there.

Energy company RWE wanted to expand its adjacent lignite strip mine, and the standoff between police and protesters — some of whom had camped for months in treehouses — has made the ancient woodland a cause celebre for environmentalists.

“We are relieved that the clearance of Hambach Forest is off the table,” BUND chairman Hubert Weiger said. “This is a great success for environmental protection and also a good signal for the peaceful protest staged by thousands of people in Hambach Forest and beyond who want to protect the climate.”

Aside from saving endangered species, environmentalists say the continued extraction of coal runs contrary to Germany’s goal of reducing carbon emissions to prevent global warming.

The court said the legal questions over the forest’s status are so complex that it can’t rule on the issue in accelerated proceedings, so a halt is necessary to prevent irreversible changes being made.

RWE said the decision could delay plans to chop down the forest for a further two years, costing the company “a low three digit million-euro amount per year.”

RWE’s shares dropped 6.2 percent in Frankfurt trading to 19.22 euros ($22.10).

Separately, a court in Aachen overruled a decision by local authorities banning a planned protest Saturday. Police said the demonstration by environmentalists can now go ahead.

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