Mountaintop Removal Masquerading as a Highway Project
VDOT Expected to Release Final Environmental Assessment Shortly
Following significant concerns from community groups and environmental organizations in response to the draft environmental assessment of the controversial Coalfields Expressway project last summer, VDOT is expected to release a final assessment soon.
In August 2012, SELC urged VDOT to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for the proposed Coalfields Expressway, which is essentially a mountaintop removal coal mining project camouflaged as a highway. The agency’s draft assessment failed to analyze the significant environmental impacts that would result from the project’s new reliance on mountaintop removal coal mining, which prompted over 85,000 public comments urging the agency to conduct a thorough environmental review of the project.
Under the shield of Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act, coal companies have partnered with the state’s Department of Transportation to fast-track approval of a mountaintop removal coal mining venture disguised as a highway project, known as the Coalfields Expressway.
Paying for Access Otherwise Denied
Originally proposed in the 1990s, the Coalfields Expressway was stymied by a shortage of funding, so VDOT entered into a public-private partnership with two coal companies that proposed an alternate route for the highway. VDOT would acquire title to lands needed for rights-of-way and provide partial funding for design and construction. The coal companies would then blast away mountaintops to extract coal along the route, clearing the way for VDOT to complete construction of the four-lane highway.
VDOT Turns a Blind Eye to Destruction
SELC and its partners have strong objections to this plan. VDOT is attempting to use the new “coal synergy” concept to sidestep essential aspects of environmental review and permitting processes that are required by law. What’s more, with the state’s power of eminent domain behind them, VDOT’s for-profit partners would be able to mine land that might otherwise be inaccessible to them. In June 2012, VDOT issued an assessment of the environmental impacts of the road, but it completely failed to acknowledge the devastating environmental and public health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining. The assessment relies on decade-old surveys and incomplete information regarding potential effects on wildlife, streams, wetlands, and forest habitat. (Read more about the dangers of mountaintop mining on our Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining page.)
SELC Weighs in to Oppose the Project
SELC is insisting that VDOT prepare a thorough, up-to-date environmental analysis that looks honestly at what this project will do to mountain landscapes along the corridor, as the environmental review process requires. Three federal agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—have also called for VDOT to prepare a full supplemental environmental impact statement.