The Coalfields Expressway, more aptly nicknamed the “Road to Ruin” by its opponents, threatens Southwest Virginia with new mountaintop removal coal mines and weakened local economies. That’s why more than 89,000 Americans oppose the project and more than 75 defenders of Appalachia’s water, air, land and communities rallied outside the Federal Highways Administration in D.C. last Thursday. Our purpose was to urge the agency to make sure that Virginia to take a long, hard look at environmental impacts of this mountaintop removal mine masquerading as a highway.
While the highway project is more than 20 years old, it’s just now gaining traction. In 2001, the Virginia Department of Transportation conducted the first Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the potential effects of the proposed highway on the surrounding landscape. Five years later, Appalachian coal giant Alpha Natural Resources stepped in and proposed its plan: let us mine near this highway route and we will leave behind a roadbed for the state. VDOT approved the revised road plan without requiring a revised environmental impact statement, even though a 2012 environmental assessment found that Alpha’s route would result in three times the damage of the original route on forests and streams.
Now, the Federal Highways Administration can require a revised impact statement for the project which would put the brakes on mine approvals in order to fully assess the detrimental effects of the Alpha’s proposed route.
Jane Branham (Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards), Marley Green (Sierra Club), and Rob Goodwin (Coal River Mountain Watch) spoke at the rally on Thursday. Jane lives in Wise County, Va., where mountaintop removal mines have decimated the environment and strained communities and their culture.
Jane’s rally speech represents the voices of Southwest Virginians opposed to the Coalfields Expressway: “This is nothing but a 100-mile strip job; more mountaintop removal, more water is polluted, more people’s lives affected, and more people dying because of this … We have had enough, and we’re here today to tell the [Federal Highways Administration] to deny this permit. It’s nothing but a give away to the coal corporations to mine coal and not reclaim this land – the reclamation will be borne by the taxpayers and the people that live there. We don’t need it.”
We were a loud, respectful, and energized crowd ready to stand for the mountains and people of Appalachia. A representative for Administrator Victor Mendez, the head of FHWA, greeted our crowd and received our petition signed by 89,384 people. It was a successful rally building into a larger, stronger campaign to stop mountain destruction in Virginia.
Join the movement and sign our petition to Administrator Mendez. And keep posted on appvoices.org/cfx/ for more developments and ways to get involved!