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Washington, D.C. – More than 70 people rallied outside the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) today calling for a more rigorous review of a proposed
mountaintop removal highway project in Southwestern Virginia. Residents from across
Virginia and D.C. presented nearly 90,000 petitions signatures to the agency and brought contaminated water from streams impacted by mountaintop removal mining.
“The Coalfields Expressway is nothing more than a 100-mile-long mountaintop removal
mine the industry wants to build through my community,” said Jane Branham, of Wise
County, Va. who spoke at the rally. “They diverted the route to follow a coal seam, but
say they don’t need another review. Allowing this project to proceed will mean more
mountaintop removal mining, more waters polluted, more peoples’ lives affected and
more people dying. This is nothing but a giveaway to the coal industry and we have had
enough. The Federal Highway Administration must take a closer look at this project and
give it the rigorous review it deserves.”
The more than $2 billion project was approved by Governor McDonnell’s administration.
Southwest Virginia residents are asking FHA to require that the state submit a
Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to account for significant changes to the
project since coal mining companies were brought on. The coal companies were allowed
to change the route of the highway to maximize coal mining opportunities, even though
the re-routed highway would end up skirting local business districts.
The new route threatens jobs and small businesses in towns like Pound, Va. that would be bypassed. It would mean seizing up to 1,500 acres of private land and dramatically
increasing the harmful impacts of the highway project on local waterways, including
those used for drinking water, as the original design.
“Our children deserve safe drinking water, clean air and natural places free from the
destruction of mountaintop removal mining,” said Diana Withen, a teacher in Wise
County, Va. “Living in this community, I know that we all share a sense that our land and our mountains are part of who we are, and we all want a safe and healthy future for our children. Unfortunately, these basic protections are threatened in Wise, Dickenson and Buchanan counties by mountaintop removal mining companies that have entered into this dangerous deal with the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Appalachian Voices and the Sierra Club worked with citizens from Southwest Virginia to
organize the rally.