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Mock Public Comments on the Draft EIS for West Virginia's King Coal Highway

This page is authored by Lauren Waterworth, Appalachian State University.
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Summary

After learning about the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and the development of Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), students will review relevant sections of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the King Coal Highway project in Mingo County, West Virginia. The EIS includes analysis of socioeconomic and environmental justice impacts of the proposed project. Students will prepare comments from the point of view of an assigned group or organization, including town counsels, public health organizations, environmental advocacy groups, coal industry associations, and minority advocacy organizations.

Learning Goals

- Learn where to locate Environmental Impact Statements for public review and comment.
- Develop data analysis, synthesis of ideas, and critical thinking skills by drafting comments in response to an EIS.
- Develop written and oral presentation skills by drafting and presenting public comments to an EIS.
- How to evaluate environmental issues from different—and often competing—perspectives (industry, environmental protection, economic development, public health, and environmental justice).
- Experience the public comment process that is so integral to NEPA regulation and enforcement.
- Appreciate the importance and difficulty of public participation in environmental regulation.
- Environmental justice is addressed by having students represent and respond to the EIS on behalf of low-income neighborhoods and minority advocacy groups.

Context for Use

This exercise will be included in a special topics course on Environmental Regulation and Enforcement, taught to college juniors and seniors who are majoring in the sciences, e.g., Environmental Science and Geology, and who anticipate a career in industry, environmental consulting, government, or environmental and/or community advocacy. The class will have up to 40 students. This exercise will take up an entire class period, 1 hour 15 minutes, and will not require any special equipment or software; in keeping with the format for actual public hearings, students/presenters will deliver comments without projection equipment, PowerPoint, etc.

This exercise will occur early in the course after an introductory lecture on the history and status of Environmental Justice regulation, and at the culmination of a unit entitled "Regulating the Regulator", which focuses on the role of government agencies in the regulatory process. This activity could easily be adapted to other settings as long as students have an adequate introduction to (1) the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, (2) the development of Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), (3) the role of public comments, and (4) the basic concepts, history, and issues of Environmental Justice.

Description and Teaching Materials

After learning about the NEPA process and the development of EISs, students will review relevant sections of the Draft Supplemental EIS for the King Coal Highway project in Mingo County, West Virginia. The EIS, which includes analysis of socioeconomic and environmental justice impacts of the proposed project, is available for download (16 MB, 515 pages) at the following link:

http://www.transportation.wv.gov/highways/engineering/comment/kch-belodelbarton/Pages/default.aspx

Outside of class, students will prepare a presentation and comments to the EIS from the point of view of specific groups and organizations. Comments should be between 2-5 pages and oral presentation should be between 8 and 10 minutes. Students will present their comments "in character". Depending on class size, the students may be paired up or placed in groups to develop comments. Potential groups and organizations include the following:

- West Virginia Community Voices, Inc.: http://www.wvvoices.org/ ("West Virginia Community Voices works to improve health care for underserved populations in West Virginia through the development of state and community partnerships.")
- Mingo County Commission: http://www.mingocountywv.com/
- Mingo County Redevelopment Authority: http://www.mcra-wv.org/?q=home
- Delbarton, WV Town Counsel: http://www.delbartonwv.us/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=49&Itemid=62
- Partnership of African American Churches: http://www.paac2.org/about.php ("While PAAC serves all communities, it intentionally targets African American communities in West Virginia. The PAAC is a specific initiative driven organization focusing on community and individual well-being which involves both policy change and programmatic implementation.")
- West Virginia Coal Association: http://www.wvcoal.com/ ("Located in Charleston, W.Va., the West Virginia Coal Association is a trade association representing more than 90 percent of the state's underground and surface coal mine production. Its purpose is to have a unified voice representing the state's coal industry as well as increase emphasis on coal as a reliable energy source to help the nation achieve energy independence.")
- Ruth Trace Neighborhood Property Owners Association: Does not exist, but students will assume for purposes of this exercise that residents have organized. The Ruth Trace neighborhood could see residential displacement of up to 40 out of 50 households.




Teaching Notes and Tips

1) I have not taught this course before and have not implemented this exercise.
2) At any given time, there are many EISs which are open for public review and comment. Information about other EISs may be found here:

http://www.epa.gov/compliance/nepa/eisdata.html

3) Because I think students should be able to think about environmental issues and appreciate their complexity from multiple perspectives, I suggest that students should not choose which group or organization they will represent, but rather the instructor make the assignment.
4) Depending on where the EIS is in the NEPA process, some groups may have submitted comments in the past. For example, for the King Coal Highway project, Appalachian Mountain Advocates has submitted comments on two different occasions. I do not plan to highlight this to students, though they will catch it if they give the EIS a thorough reading. Savvy students may be able to get their hands on previous comments and use them to inform their own comments. I think I would prefer that they try to come up with their own responses, but would not penalize them for being resourceful. ☺

Assessment

Because I have not actually done this exercise yet with students, I am still working on how to assess them. I look forward to suggestions.

References and Resources

Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, "King Coal Highway Delbarton to Belo Project and Buffalo Mountain Surface Mine Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit Application", submitted by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Dept. of the Army Corps of Engineers, and the WV Dept. of Transportation, Division of Highways. Students will review and respond to this document in the form of public comments at a mock public hearing. Available at: http://www.transportation.wv.gov/highways/engineering/comment/kch-belodelbarton/Pages/default.aspx

EPA Database for past and current Environmental Impact Statement Information:
http://www.epa.gov/compliance/nepa/eisdata.html

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