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In Germany there are currently between 200 and 2000 climate activists in the Lützerath hamlet fighting the forced sale of the hamlet to a mining company. They are primarily on/around the property of farmer Eckardt Heukamp who objected to selling his farm. Here is the wikipedia article and here is a BBC article.

In general the forced sale of land is driven by the ideas of Eminent Domain, which is the forced sale of property to the government for public use. The justification for the existence of Eminent Domain laws always heavily relies on the use of the land to be for the public. This case however implies that a company (the farmer) is forced to sell its land to another private company (RWE), so that the latter company can profit off of the resources in the land owned by the farmer against the wishes of the farmer.

The only case I can think of where Eminent Domain is used somewhat commonly for sales to a private company is for the purchase of land for railways, but this is - as far as I am aware - justified by the positive externalities of train networks, so it's basically a form of 'subsidy'. Such a reasoning does not seem to apply to a mining company.

So my question is basically: What is the reasoning behind laws allowing entire villages to be sold to private mining companies? Does the state get some 'maximum energy prices' or something similar in return to justify this as a 'public use', or is there a completely different justification?

(Btw, I am not particularly interested in the specifics of German law, and more so in the general justifications for 'laws like this', so answers for different jurisdictions are welcome as well)

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    Not sure if it applies here, but in the U.S., ownership of mineral rights is frequently severed from the ownership of surface rights, and depending upon state law, the surface right owner's interest may be subordinate to those of the mineral rights owner. Also, mineral rights in the Western U.S. were often retained by the U.S. government when it gave surface rights in public property to private individuals (often via the homestead acts).
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 9, 2023 at 19:48
  • Worth noting that mining rights are not intrinsic to land ownership. In south africa all mining rights belong to the government and companies with land owners have to apply for mining liscenses.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 9, 2023 at 20:53

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Art 14 GG provides a right to personal property, but not without limitations. In particular, expropriation is allowed on the basis of a concrete law with fair compensation, when necessary for a public interest.

In 2013, these disputes relating to the Garzweiler mine were decided by the German constitutional court. In decision 1 BvR 3139/08, one such expropriation law was found constitutional. It gave public interests such as:

  • supplying the economy with raw materials
  • maintaining jobs in the mining industry
  • maintaining and growing the economy

More recently, the goal of fulfilling political energy strategies (e.g. energy independence) has become more prominent as well.

Such public interests don't automatically override the right to property – all relevant rights and interests must be balanced. But in practice, the economic interests of a large corporation do seem to override individuals' right to their property, especially since they must be given fair compensation. Opposing public interests might weigh more strongly. It will be interesting to see how recent expropriation for the purpose of lignite mining will be viewed in retrospect, given that climate protection has also been found to be a constitutionally protected interest.

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    Might be worth clarifying that GG == Grundgesetz ("Basic Law" in English), which is effectively the constitution of the Federal Republic. Jan 9, 2023 at 13:23
  • Idk how big the mining sector is in Germany but in South Africa the communities best interest is the mines best interest as the mines are expected to serve the communities the fall under.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 9, 2023 at 18:15

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