Eckardt Heukamp is a farmer. For years he refused to sell his property to RWE. Now Heukamp has given up: The energy giant will demolish its farm and mine lignite there. Why the fight for Lützerath is still not over.
“When I’m gone, Lützerath will be dead,” says Eckardt Heukamp. It’s Friday midday, a sunny spring day, but he sounds sober on the phone. There are good reasons for this: Because Heukamp, 57 years old and a farmer, has to vacate his property in North Rhine-Westphalia in a few months.
At the end of this year, the energy company RWE will start demolishing its house and draining its fields. Lignite mining can continue here, according to the Münster Higher Administrative Court (OVG) a few weeks ago. A bitter verdict for Heukamp, who is running his farm in the fourth generation.
He negotiated with the energy giant for many years, and the 57-year-old repeatedly refused to sell his property. “They repeatedly threatened me – and other residents too, by the way – with expropriation. I said: Then dispossess me if it’s that easy,” he explains in an interview with FOCUS Online.
Heukamp is stubborn, some would say stubborn. In a dispute with RWE, he went to court and lost in the first instance. But he didn’t give up and stuck to his veto. “At first I was just fighting for my homeland. But the deeper you get into the matter, the more you realize what kind of damage brown coal mining is actually causing.”
On the one hand, the damage that Heukamp means is of an agricultural nature. “RWE’s dredging plans have serious consequences for arable farming, if only because the groundwater has to be pumped out from under the land,” he says. Heukamp is worried about the valuable loess layers and Börde soils, which would lose their fertility as a result of the excavations.
RWE, in turn, assured the “Rheinische Post” that it would carefully dredge the valuable loess out of the ground – and reapply it as part of the recultivation. However, according to Heukamp, these “new” areas do not have the same quality as the old ones.
On the other hand, Heukamp is worried about the future, not just his own, but that of younger generations. His farm is now only a few hundred meters from RWE’s coal hole. He has already noticed cracks in the walls of the houses, but other observations are more serious.
“When it’s windy here, sometimes you can hardly see anything because of all the fine dust,” says the farmer. Because that’s also what the dispute with RWE is about: the environment, the climate. Around half of all CO2 emissions in Germany are caused by the energy industry, the largest part is caused by coal mining.
Heukamp has entered into a symbiosis with the people who have been opposed to lignite mining for years. Climate activists helped him gain public attention, and he became a figurehead for their environmental goals. But what’s next now that Heukamp has sold his farm to RWE?
It is unlikely that resistance to the group will subside. Finally, around 100 environmental activists have settled in Lützerath: they live in tents, tree houses, caravans and squatted houses and want to continue to defend the place against demolition.
The initiative “All villages stay”, which has accompanied Heukamp’s resistance for a long time, is one of them. Its members want to prevent entire towns from falling victim to brown coal mining. “All villages remain” supported Heukamp’s lawsuits with public relations work, collecting donations, but also with a much-noticed report.
“We asked the German Institute for Economic Research for help. It should make an assessment of where how much coal is and where how much can be excavated so as not to exceed the 1.5 degree limit,” says Marina Scheidler from “All Villages Remain” in an interview with FOCUS Online. The result: Germany can only make its contribution to complying with the 1.5 degree target if the coal under Lützerath stays in the ground.
Of course, RWE sees things differently. “Compliance with the 1.5 degree target does not depend on the lignite mining at the level of Lützerath: The Paris Agreement does not provide for the derivation of national, even fuel-specific or project-specific emission budgets,” writes the group on request.
In addition, RWE’s project has long since been approved. “The Garzweiler opencast mine, in whose mining field Lützerath is located, can continue its work for some time. In doing so, he moves within the approved mining field and also confirmed by the key decision of the North Rhine-Westphalia state government in spring 2021,” says the statement of the energy giant.
The fact that politicians made this decision is a scandal for many climate protectors. Also because completely different sounds can be heard again and again – for example in the context of the NRW state elections. “During the election campaign it was said that we want to keep to the 1.5 degree limit. And that means leaving Lützerath where it is,” says Scheidler.
“In my opinion, responsibilities are shifted back and forth and things are laid out as they suit. How important is the 1.5-degree target if we are now even considering expanding coal further?” Heukamp also asks himself. Finally, because of the Ukraine war, there is also discussion about temporarily postponing the coal phase-out.
The first precautions have already been taken: the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, wants to keep closed coal piles as “reserve power plants”. And the Berlin-Brandenburg Higher Administrative Court ruled that Lausitzer Braunkohle AG (Leag) was allowed to continue operating its Jänschwalde opencast mine for the time being.
RWE writes that it is “the decision of the federal government whether, in view of the war in Ukraine, coal-fired power plants should be used temporarily to ensure security of supply”. Of course, in an emergency, you are ready with the appropriate reactors.
However, the group also emphasizes “that this can by no means represent a backwards role, but at most a temporary step to the side”. They want to continue to phase out coal, and the construction of further wind farms and photovoltaic systems is planned. In the Rhenish mining area, which also includes Lützerath, the energy giant currently mines around 100 million tons of lignite per year.
Heukamp believes that lignite mining is no longer attractive for RWE in the long term. “But the group will continue to ride the wave as long as the business is worthwhile,” he says. How things will continue for RWE is foreseeable. But for Heukamp? He has to leave his home in a few months. “I would never have walked away if I had a realistic chance of staying,” he says.
The farmer assumes that nature and climate protection will continue to fight for Lützerath. “But the movement would have to be bigger so that the place doesn’t fall.” For Heukamp, this is the second time that he has lost a property to RWE. In 2015 he had to sell his farm in nearby Borschemich. Because of the lignite mining.
Before he hangs up the phone, Heukamp thinks of something else. “I am thinking about the old people who have been resettled. You’ll probably never get over it,” he says. The sentence shows what the dispute over Lützerath is about: homeland.
A whole village is dying for the coal: “What is happening here is inhuman”