Virginia’s Coalfields Expressway
Community Impacts of Controversial Coalfields Expressway Project to Receive Thorough Review More »
Mountaintop Removal Masquerading as a Highway 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.
Clearing the Way for Mountaintop Mining
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 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 the road's potential effects on wildlife, streams, wetlands, and forest habitat.
Ensuring Environmental Impacts are Studied
Since summer 2012, SELC has insisted that VDOT prepare a thorough, up-to-date analysis that objectively looks at impacts to the environment and communities along the corridor, as the 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 in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
In May 2014, FHWA announced that VDOT will be required to conduct a thorough review of the environmental consequences of this project, and the agencies are expected to begin the scoping process in summer 2014. SELC and its coalition partners will continue our efforts to ensure that decision-makers include in the analysis a full range of highway alternatives that truly serve the communities of southwest Virginia and do not depend on mountaintop removal coal mining.