Germany Closes Its Last Active Coal Mine, Ending 200-year-old Industry

December 21, 2018, 12:34 PM UTC

Germany will witness the end of an era Friday.

Around mid-afternoon, a team of dusty miners will bring up the last lumps of hard coal mined in the country from the Prosper-Haniel mine in Bottrop, in the heart of Germany’s industrial northwest. It’s a bittersweet farewell for an area already down on its luck.

Prosper-Haniel was the last operating hard coal mine in a region defined by that industry for 200 years. The Ruhr River valley, once the economic engine of post-war industrial Germany, has been down on its luck for decades. In the 1950s, more than 600,000 locals worked in the mines — in 2017, it was down to only 4,500, Clean Energy Wire reports. More than 5 million people live in the 15 cities of the Ruhr area, but their incomes trail the state average by €1,500, and unemployment rates there are double the national average.

Germany’s government is still waiting on the final report from a coal commission to explain how, exactly, a country that still relies on coal-powered plants for a third of its energy can give up the fossil fuel for greener options. Domestic coal has already been replaced by imports from Russia, the U.S., Australia, and Columbia. The commission report is expected in February and will become part of Germany’s first federal Climate Action Law in 2019.

While mining hard coal is officially over in Germany as of today, mines for lignite, or brown coal, remain in operation. Protests between occupiers of the Hambach Forest and energy giant RWE, which wants to raze part of it to expand its lignite mine, have been an ongoing spectacle in German news media this fall.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will be in Bottrop today to bid farewell to this era of Germany’s economy.