Coal’s Road To Nowhere: The Coalfields Expressway

VA mtr site

A mountaintop removal coal mining site in Fork Ridge, Virginia. Photo courtesy of SouthWings and Appalachian Voices.

by Mary Anne Hitt, via the Sierra Club

In the tranquil, misty mountains of southwest Virginia, the coal industry is trying to build its very own road to nowhere. King Coal’s latest scheme is to try and take $2 billion of federal funds — our tax dollars — to build the Coalfields Expressway through rural Southwest Virginia. Coal companies plan to use mountaintop removal mining to flatten the area to make way for the road, while they keep the profits from the coal they extract. While the coal companies call it a road, local residents are calling it a taxpayer financed strip mine.

Virginians aren’t taking this news lying down, though. Last Friday, when an official comment period closed, more than 4,400 Virginians and 81,000 people beyond VA’s borders had submitted comments to the Federal Highway Administration in opposition to this project — over 85,000 comments opposing this boondoggle.

These tens of thousands of Americans know that the construction of this “Coalfields Expressway” won’t serve the public. The route was designed to help a coal company, Alpha Natural Resources, access coal reserves. To make matters worse, the road will not only cause pollution and destruction, but it also bypasses local communities and threatens to remove the through-traffic that local businesses depend on

The controversial highway project would cut through southwestern Virginia, using eminent domain to relocate dozens of property owners while bypassing local business areas and burying at least 12 miles of streams.

Local residents assert that while the project is being billed as a highway project, in reality it’s a taxpayer financed strip mine that is likely to be exempt from all of the permitting requirements and other protections provided for communities and the environment by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Action.

In addition to collecting comments, local residents organizing against the project recently testified at public hearings held in the Virginia towns of Wise and Vansant. Dozens of local residents turned out to oppose the project and the negative effects it would have on their community, water supply, and local economy.

“We’re worried that this project is going to cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money while leaving Virginians with a toxic mess and miles of bare stripped land instead of a useful road,” said Marley Green, a Sierra Club Organizer in Appalachia, Va. “We need both the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration to take action to protect the health and safety of our communities.”

Already, $38 million in taxpayer funds were wasted on a cancelled portion of the highway. The total taxpayer price tag for the entire project is still unknown. The Sierra Club and Southern Environmental Law Center submitted comments opposing the project, together with our allies Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Appalachian Voices, Wise Energy for Virginia, and CREDO Action.

We can’t let King Coal destroy our streams and our mountains. Appalachians have suffered enough at the hands of the coal industry. The Coalfields Expressway will only lead to more polluted water and destruction.

This project is poorly planned, a threat to local streams and rivers, and a waste of tax payer dollars.

We urge the Federal Highway Administration to stand up for Appalachia, and complete a full study of the threats this road would have on local communities. There are smarter, more efficient ways to improve transportation options in southwest Virginia, and it’s crucial that we not rush into a giant gift to the coal industry without considering all of the impacts and alternatives.

Mary Anne Hitt is Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign. This piece was originally published at the Sierra Club’s Compass blog and was reprinted with permission.


7 Responses to Coal’s Road To Nowhere: The Coalfields Expressway

  1. Jack Burton says:

    This project will be a sure thing when Romney sits in the White House.
    Face it, we are fast tracking the climate disaster, as if getting to tipping point couldn’t come fast enough. America is not alone in this. China now outproduces us in emissions, others are catching up fast.
    I’m not sure if it is denial, or a suicidal imperative to grow in population and economic output until we crash the ecosystem.
    Past societies have kept doing the same thing till they crashed, we seem intent on following suit on the “coal highway” to hell.

  2. Calamity Jean says:

    Please! That’s IF Romney sits in the White House, not “when”. It’s not a sure thing that Mr. Moneybags will get elected.

    You’re right that the highway will be a sure thing if Romney is elected.

  3. Chris Winter says:

    Absolutely, Jean! And right now the oddsmakers give a substantial advantage to the president. So it’s a pretty big IF.

    But of course things can change between now and election day. “Rmoney,” with his larger campaign war chest, will be pulling out all the stops. We can’t just sit back and wait.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Let’s see. Destroy global climate stability. Pollute the locality. Forcibly acquire land (Free to lose!). Destroy little towns by by-passing them. And make millions in profit for the share-holders, the 1%, who will then ‘trickle down’ on the serfs. Well, transfer it to off-shore tax-havens, actually. Looks like a ‘win, win, win, win, win’ situation for those who hate other people.

  5. Leif says:

    The big WIN for Corpro/People comes when sh*t really starts to hit the fan and big corporations will be the only ones with the where-with-all to tackle the sea walls and other major infrastructure to even begin mitigation efforts even though those efforts will be in vain. (Corpro/People control of the media will of course paint a rosy picture of the efforts.) 20%? of the GDP to even start to make headway. FAT CITY! Starting early with distributed Green Energy and the profits from the sun can be in the pockets of the masses. Start late, the Corpro/People pockets.

  6. catman306 says:

    Proposed Interstate 3 which would run from Savannah Ga. to Knoxville Tn. along the Savannah River and through the mountains. I see this as a possible coal truck route from the mountaintops to awaiting coal freighters at the port.

  7. Watcher says:

    How many other highways in Appalachia have been constructed using the very same methods? The statement should read – likely to NOT be exempt from all of the permitting requirements and other protections provided by the surface DESTURBANCE control and reclamation action.Same process of material extraction and placement. Fill material is just that,fill material, whether from mining or road construction and the SAME RULES SHOULD APPLY.