Anyway, after over a decade of talking about and planning for the eventual construction of Interstate 73, the project cleared a significant legal hurdle last week. From the Martinsville Bulletin:
Pay attention, fellow progressives; there's a lesson here for environmentalists. I'm as green as they come--I completely support alternative energy, smart growth and cleaner lifestyles. I thoroughly oppose offshore drilling, uranium mining and nuclear power among other things. I'm also a big fan of the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House last year. But I think sometimes well-meaning Greenies are guilty of oversimplifying the ease with which our favored changes can be made.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed the appeal of Virginians for Appropriate Roads over construction of Interstate 73.The court’s order was filed Monday.
The appeal was of U.S. District Senior Judge James C. Turk’s ruling in July against Virginians for Appropriate Roads, which sued federal and state highway and transportation officials.
The citizens group challenged the Federal Highway Administration’s Record of Decision on March 30, 2007, approving construction of I-73 between Interstate 81 near Roanoke and the Virginia/North Carolina state line.
The suit claimed that the highway administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by not adequately considering alternatives to the approved corridor, including an upgrade of U.S. 220; not postponing environmental impact statement until construction funds for I-73 were available; and not considering the environmental impacts of the interstate project, according to court records. (My emphasis)
For example, in the above quote, Virginians for Appropriate Roads wanted to see if U.S. 220 could simply be upgraded instead of building a new interstate. Anyone who has driven 220 for any amount of time can tell you how damn-near-impossible that would be. Route 220 is basically an old dirt road that got paved over, with steep hills, narrow lanes, hairpin turns and all. Throw in the fact that it's crawling with 18-wheelers and it becomes a remarkably unsafe and unsettling place to drive. Upgrading it would require just as much work (and probably just as much environmental impact) as building a new road altogether. Moreover, using a lawsuit to stall I-73 was a terrible idea from a strategic standpoint: holding up a project that would bring tangible economic benefits to places that badly need them is not exactly a PR win.
I guess what I'm saying is that we need to be honest about the fact that this is still an incredibly complicated issue; there's still a delicate balance between industry and environmental progress. Yes, we're trying to make a cleaner, greener world that will ultimately benefit all of us, but there are a lot of working-class people in our state who depend on the current economy for their livelihood. The biggest example of that is coal, which is basically the entire economy of the Southwest--it will take a long time to dislodge that, and we have to have an alternative to offer the folks who will lose their jobs when the mines close. Environmentalists should focus on promoting economic growth through green jobs and go into the big battles with a sense of humility. The I-73 case is a teachable moment, and I think we'd all do well to learn from it.