EPA: King Coal Highway environmental analysis falls short - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

EPA: King Coal Highway environmental analysis falls short

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The Environmental Protection Agency says a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) ignores certain alternatives that could have been taken to mitigate impacts of the King Coal Highway and an associated surface mine.

The King Coal Highway, a  four-lane highway to connect Williamson and Bluefield, covers approximately 90 miles of rough terrain through southern West Virginia. The highway is being built with a public-private partnership in which coal companies mine the land in a way to reduce the cost of building the roads.

"EPA's concerns focus on the lack of information contained in the Draft SEIS and its failure to consider any alternatives to the project as proposed," reads a statement from the EPA accompanying a letter released Monday. "While we have concerns with this Draft SEIS, we understand the importance of this project to the people of West Virginia and stand ready to work with the Corps, Federal Highway Administration and mine operator to conduct a more thorough analysis that could move this process forward."

The agency is required to review any environmental impact statements associated with the project under the National Environmental Policy Act. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Highway Administration wrote the draft EIS and will make the final decision regarding the project.

"Our concerns focus on the nature and extent of direct, indirect and cumulative adverse impacts to human health and the environment expected to result from the construction and operation of the proposed project and the lack of information in the draft SEIS assessing these effects," wrote Shawn Garvin, regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency says the proposed Buffalo surface mine, being mined by Consol Energy, would be among the largest ever in West Virginia. The EPA says the project would create 12 valley fills and bury 7.4 miles of "high quality" streams to mine the site and build the highway.

"Our experience in Appalachia demonstrates that it is possible to improve mine design to better protect water quality and the environment, reduce costs and maximize coal recovery," the letter states.

Garvin called the consideration of alternatives the "heart" of an EIS and the EPA's concern is based on the draft EIS only conducting "limited analysis" of alternatives.

"We are confident that more thorough and comprehensive analysis would identify reasonable opportunities to achieve the states project purposes with fewer environmental impacts," Garvin wrote.

The EPA comments state that the study fails to consider alternatives that may have reduce environmental and health impacts. The environmental impact statement was assessed as unsatisfactory due to a  lack of information, the EPA letter states.

The area is question is specifically for a section of the highway that stretches from Delbarton to Belo.