Heavy industry during the previous regime destroyed the air and the landscape. This is also why the state-owned enterprise Lesy ČR began to demand compensation from polluters shortly after its establishment in 1992. These were large and smaller industrial players, gas plants and iron plants.
Especially with larger issuers, lawsuits often dragged on and ended up at the Supreme or Constitutional Court. The longest ones lasted over 20 years. “Even in 2020, the company was sued in ninety court proceedings for a total of more than 300 million crowns. At the moment, we are not conducting any immission disputes,” says Eva Jouklová, spokeswoman for Lesů ČR.
“It’s a Terrible Mistake”
At the same time, he emphasizes that the state-owned company has succeeded in the vast majority of disputes. It most often entered into one-off or long-term settlement agreements with polluters, which resulted in the right to compensation.
However, polluters often paid even for destroyed forests in the new millennium. According to scientist Jakub Hruška from the Institute of Global Change Research of the Academy of Sciences, wrongly. “It’s a terrible mistake. I think the issuers could, even should, contradict the claims of Lesů ČR,” he says in an interview for Nauzal.
It is backed by a scientific study, according to which acid rain destroyed forests in the totalitarian era. However, according to him, after the revolution, the stands regenerated very quickly and the air does not have such an effect on their condition.
Hruška mentioned it on social networks a few days ago in connection with the case, which was reported by the Aktuálně.cz server. According to the Ministry of Justice led by Pavel Blažek (ODS), forensic expert Pavel Hadaš, who established the amount of damages based on the emissions of individual polluters, was guilty of violating state regulations. The possible unprofessionalism of the expert was pointed out by the ČEZ energy group, which also had disputes with Lesy ČR about the amount of damages. But the expert managed to overturn the minister’s decision.
Scientist Hruška, however, points out that justice is missing the main reason for forest damage.
You pointed out on social networks that Czech forests have not been destroyed by sulfur dioxide and acid rain since at least the turn of the millennium. What findings are you relying on?
We rely on a dendrochronological analysis, i.e. an analysis of the tree rings of spruces in the Ore Mountains that survived and did not die in the former bad atmosphere. In the period from the sixties to the beginning of the nineties of the last century, they had very reduced growth.
So what condition were they in?
The trees fared poorly, had physiological problems and therefore grew less. But right in the second half of the nineties, they suddenly started to grow again exactly as before, even grew better for a while. This change is absolutely clearly correlated with the purification of the air from sulfur dioxide and with the reduction of acid deposition (storage in the soil). At the same time, we have long-term data on soil chemistry and know that very little has recovered from acid deposition. When the trees started to grow better again, the soils were still acidic.
So the drying of the forests was clearly related to acid rain?
Yes. Previously, two hypotheses competed with each other. One mentions the direct damage, that the large deposition of sulfur and with it sulfur dioxide burned the needles of the trees and because of this they died. The second hypothesis states that a large amount of aluminum was mobilized in acidic soils, which is present in rocks and dissolves into a toxic form in a suitably acidic environment. It is also very harmful to trees. But now we know that trees were killed by direct effects from the atmosphere. Acidified soils did not play nearly as big a role in this as we thought twenty years ago.
Now it’s not the industry that’s hurting, but the drought
You presented the findings from the analysis of tree rings also because of the progress of Forests of the Czech Republic. For more or less 30 years, the state-owned company has been receiving tens of millions from large energy and industrial companies for destroying forests with emissions. Am I correct that their claim is problematic in light of these findings?
Totally problematic. Current emitters are not causing any damage to forests here and now. The main factors now are drought, poor management and many other things, but certainly not sulfur dioxide emissions.
(From 2018, a new decree on the determination of pollution limits applies, which all emitters currently comply with. However, Lesy ČR claimed damages even in the new millennium. For example, in 2016 they calculated the damages themselves at 53 million crowns – editor’s note)
Eva Jouklová, spokeswoman for Lesů ČR, said that as recently as 2020, the state-owned company was litigating approximately 90 lawsuits for more than 300 million crowns and was successful in most of them.
I’m not sure she won the arguments in court. If it won them, it is because small issuers will not argue with them. They don’t have the capacity for it, the professional apparatus that would contradict it. They prefer to pay the damage so that they can be free from problems. It’s a terrible mistake. CEZ was the only one to sue.
Expression of Forests of the Czech Republic
According to Eva Jouklova, spokeswoman for Lesů ČR, since its establishment in 1992, the state-owned company has applied compensation for damages, initially to hundreds of issuers per year. Above all, they paid for the minor damage. “Some larger emitters were not interested in conducting legal proceedings regarding the claim for compensation for damages, and therefore entered into one-time or long-term settlement agreements with Lesy ČR, which resulted in compensation for damages calculated on the basis of the rules according to their official reporting of emissions production, not on the basis of a scientific study and expert opinion,” she stated.
So if Lesy ČR succeeded in the disputes, wrongly for you?
Yes, definitely wrong. But as far as I know, none of the disputes ended in a verdict, but in an agreement.
However, for example, the courts recently stood up for the court expert, doctor of natural sciences Pavel Hadaš, who sanctified before the justice the amount of damage to the Forests of the Czech Republic from pollution, estimated between the companies. The Ministry of Justice also questioned the expert’s professionalism.
This is complicated. The joke is that Lesy ČR calculates the amount of pollution damage themselves, which I think is complete nonsense. No gamer in the forest can recognize that the damage was caused by the effect of acid rain. He is not professionally equipped for this. The forensic expert took this calculated damage and calculated it according to the dispersion study and individual air polluters in the Czech Republic.
However, when I quote one of the judgments that defended the expert’s work: “According to the jurisprudence of the Supreme Court, the methodology for calculating damages based on dispersion studies and the Gauss mathematical model used by the expert in this proceeding is the best available and at the same time sufficiently convincing means of quantifying the amount of damages.” So what you up to it?
That’s spelled wrong. It may be a good method for budgeting the amount of damages for individual issuers, but it is by no means suitable for determining the amount of damages. The expert did not determine any amount of damage. He only assessed how, for example, 30 million crowns should be budgeted for polluters.
So, in your opinion, should companies like ČEZ, or smaller issuers, contradict the earlier claims of Lesů ČR?
I think they could, even should, contradict it.
“We concluded a mutually acceptable settlement agreement with Lesy ČR at the beginning of 2021. All court cases have ended, so we are not interested in emphasizing this topic any further. This also belongs to concluded agreements. The matter is closed for us.”
Ladislav Kříž, CEZ spokesman
You have already said that the soils in the Czech Republic are still very acidic. Is this not sufficient proof that the claims of the Czech State Forests are justified?
It isn’t. They charge damages for the year 2017, for example. In that year, according to the dendrological analysis, the trees grew as much as ever before. And if it wasn’t, then for reasons other than high concentrations of sulfur dioxide or acid rain.
A number of forests in the Czech Republic have been destroyed by bark beetles in recent years. Can’t one argue that they were weakened precisely because of earlier acid rain?
No, I would contradict that too. There was a longer period between 2000 and 2010 when the forests grew absolutely amazingly, better than before. With climate change, there are better growing conditions if the trees have enough water. The bark beetle ate the forests at the moment when there was an extreme drought.
Yes, trees were predisposed to pests at the time of sulphurisation, but this happened for example in the 80s of the last century, especially in the Jizera Mountains, when the concentration of pollutants was no longer so high that most trees withered, but it fatally weakened them. A tree with a loss of two-thirds of its needles is full of crap in quotes.
However, for you, this has nothing to do with acid rain, the consequences of which the Forests of the Czech Republic mention when claiming damages, after 2000 this “sulfurization” no longer played a role?
I think that after the year 2000, no one can prove it professionally. That the decree is based on it, built on incorrect data, is no longer of interest to the courts. They make decisions somewhat autistically. They assess the mechanism. That the damage was not actually caused by this mechanism is an error of the general legal order.