Is the Tesla project in Grünheide failing?18. February 2020
Is the Tesla project in Grünheide failing?
By Horst Buchwald
Tesla plans to start production of the electric cars in the Gigafactory near Grünheide in July 2021. Great, everyone is enthusiastic. Not everyone – there are also opponents. Do we have to take them seriously? Whether in the Federal Ministry of Economics or in the state government of Brandenburg – they didn’t see a problem anywhere. But there are still environmentalists and nature conservation laws. Had anyone considered that? I don’t think so. Bad luck. Because now there are problems after all. What’s going on in Grünheide?
Wednesday, February 5. Three o’clock. Grünheide. Numerous residents and interested people from the surrounding area flock to the Hangelsberg community centre. They are mostly older men and women. Tesla had invited. About a dozen employees parked their Model S, Model 3 and Model X in front of the restaurant.
15:30: Arne Christiani, the mayor, welcomes the numerous guests and announces the topic: It’s about Tesla. The company wants to create at least 3000 jobs here. The young ladies and gentlemen who have arrived want to explain what kind of company this is. This is the topic and “not the forest and water.”
A quiet murmur goes through a part of the visitors. Shortly afterwards they rise and leave the show. Christiani had made it too clear that they – the project opponents – would not get through tonight. So they left the show and hatched a “better” plan. More on that later.
The Tesla- Crew presents the global corporation Tesla in rosy colors with Power-Point and free speech inserts. They assure the citizens that the fight against climate change is an integral part of the Tesla DNA. That is why they build electric cars. They also dared to take a look into the future with an insert on autonomous driving. It was an unvarnished advertising campaign. Would the citizens tolerate that? Surprisingly, the majority of visitors were more impressed than skeptical. Why?
“At last something is happening here,” said a Brandenburg man delighted. “Now this region finally has a perspective,” nods another one approvingly. Both are well over 60 years old. The gentleman in the black suit is also satisfied: “Our children benefit most of all from this”. What is behind these dry sentences? Grünheide is one of those places in the bacon belt of Berlin that well-heeled people prefer because of the cheap building land and the peace and quiet. The other side are young people and numerous fathers and mothers without jobs. So there are conflicting interests. The locals are for Tesla. They hope for a job. The newcomers are against Tesla, because this factory could disturb their peace. You don’t have to do much. Others, let’s call them “professional opponents”, know what to do. They know the Nature Conservation Act inside out. They are experienced enough – because sometimes they show up as opponents of airports, then they are against coal mining and now the opponent is called a global corporation.
The battle plan
“We lacked an employer like Tesla, who will also attract young people again”, the mayor enthuses. He is not alone. His interlocutor is convinced that this project will radiate as far as Frankfurt/Oder. “No question”, adds the third member of the group, “we missed the young people here, they will all come back” – he takes a short breath and hits a pile of files with his flat hand: “As an employer, Tesla is like a magnet”.
Gundolf Schürke, General Manager of the East Brandenburg Chamber of Industry and Commerce, is not so sure. He thinks Tesla is stealing talent from the companies he represents. The counterargument that a global corporation seeks and finds its talents worldwide is obviously new to him.
Meanwhile, the opponents of the project have gathered and drawn up a battle plan. It is scheduled to start on Friday.
Thursday, 6 February, 7:00 a.m.: clearing work begins on the 90 hectare site. The diseased pines are felled, sawn into pieces and stored. Was Tesla allowed to do that? The final approval for the start of construction of the new plant as well as the environmental impact assessment were not yet available. The responsible State Office for the Environment (LfU) allowed the start of the clearing work “at your own risk”. According to the Brandenburg State Chancellery, this is “basically possible” if a construction project is “likely to be approved”.
Friday, February 7th: The environmental association as well as the Association for Landscape Conservation and Species Protection in Bavaria (VLAB) submit an application to the Administrative Court of Frankfurt (Oder) to stop the clearing work. This application is rejected.
The VLAB had justified its urgent application with the “raid-like commenced clearing” of a “forest area important for climate and species protection” in Grünheide and applied for an immediate stop to tree felling.
The association criticized that the clearing of the forest area would create a fait accompli, although there was no building permit for the factory yet. Also, the effects of this “gigantic project” on humans and nature had not yet been thoroughly and conclusively examined. Another problem mentioned was the high water consumption in an already dry area.
However, the Administrative Court was of the opinion that the weighing of nature conservation issues by the State Environmental Agency was not objectionable. The tree felling work could therefore be continued (VG 5 L 69/20)
After the rejection of their urgent applications, the applicants still had the opportunity to appeal against the decision in the next higher instance, the Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg.
Saturday, 15 February: The Higher Administrative Court (OVG) of Berlin-Brandenburg has temporarily halted the ongoing clearing work on the site for the planned Tesla factory in Grünheide (Oder-Spree). As the court announced on Saturday evening, it thus complied with an application by the Green League Brandenburg (Ref.: OVG 11 S 8.20).
Monday, February 17th: In an interview with “Business Insider” Heinz Herwig Mascher explains what caused his association to file the lawsuit: ” We are not concerned with preventing Tesla, but with a procedure that is clean and in accordance with the rule of law. Tesla has no building permit. At the moment we are in the phase of approval according to immission control law, and only in the hearing phase. Until 5 March, every citizen, association or authority can voice their concerns and suggestions.
It is therefore not yet known what will have to be examined in detail. At this stage, we consider it legally questionable to create a fait accompli by means of clearing, and we want to have this checked in court, so that no case is created here that others could invoke elsewhere.
Mascher notes: “Until 5 March, technical authorities, environmental associations and citizens could still submit objections against the factory. As long as the deadline has not expired and the plant has not been approved, no facts can be created – after all, the clearing work cannot be reversed.
What Mascher does not mention is March 1, because § 39 BNatSchG states
It is forbidden to cut down or plant trees outside the forest, short rotation plantations or horticulturally used areas, hedges, living fences, bushes and other woods in the period from March 1st to September 30th…
This date therefore also explains Tesla’s haste. Mascher, who knew this date with certainty, was therefore clear: If he obtained a stop to clearing in court, the building permit would not help either, because at least half of the trees to be cleared would remain standing. And the consequences? A building permit would no longer make much sense. In the worst case, Tesla could cancel the project. Economics Minister Altmeier has now also understood this danger and the associated consequences. “The construction of the Tesla car plant in Brandenburg is of great importance for more climate protection and one of the most important industrial settlements in the new states for a long time”, said Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) to the newspapers of the Funke Media Group. He said that Germany could show with the project of the US electric car manufacturer that ecology and economy are not opposites and that it is possible to plan and build important projects as quickly as in other countries.
Will Elon Musk find such sentences comforting?
And if the President of the Federation of German Industries, Dieter Kempf, now calls for “faster approval procedures in Germany” in the “Tagesspiegel”, it could be that it will come too late for many years, because the Tesla case will deter any other global corporation from investing here.
Although the purchase agreement has been signed, money has not yet been received. So far, a sum of 41 million euros has been set aside for the 300 hectare site. Whether the price was calculated correctly, however, is to be clarified by an independent appraisal. This may also take some time.
Conclusion: Tesla is not a self-runner. Anyone who lands such projects should not just slam the door to the file and stick a “tick” on it after the company boss has already said yes. On the contrary, he must constantly ask himself where problems could arise, who could put obstacles in the way of the project. As is shown here again, environmental and nature conservation laws as well as the tricky building permits absolutely have to be adapted to the times and simplified.
One more thing: environmentalists must also ask themselves in principle whether their opponents make sense in specific cases by looking beyond the legal situation. Why? Because the nature that has been saved and the economic and social damage that has been caused by it are grossly disproportionate. They should also avoid being guided by subjectively determined motives. Environmental protection out of revenge – that is not a good motive.
An example of what I mean by this is the chairman of the Green League, Heinz Herwig Macher. In response to the comment that the pine trees to be cleared really do not look particularly worthy of protection, he says: normally, such projects would require “surveys of the flora and fauna to be carried out at all times of the year”. In Tesla’s case, only a two-week inspection was carried out. The objection that the experts probably did not find anything worthy of protection here is countered by him: some anthills and bat quarters were found. So Tesla had received “special treatment” and that was “more than enough”.
The positioning is clear: For him, environmental protection is like an environmental bible, which means no interpretation but uncompromising execution. Macher reveals where this hardened attitude comes from with the following story: “I grew up in a village near Neuruppin and still remember how my grandfather’s cow pasture was tarred and I had to walk to school via the motorway. This experience during his youth had a strong influence on his environmental policy – until today.
Macher will now go down in the history of the environmental movement when he has “won”. As what? He was the first Brandenburg citizen to defeat a global corporation by “denying” around 3000 people their jobs. After all, anthills and bats had to be protected.