Uranium-mining proposal suffers major defeat

Richmond Times Dispatch – February 1, 2013
by Rex Springston

A proposal to end Virginia’s 31-year ban on uranium mining suffered a major defeat Thursday before a state Senate panel.

Lacking the votes to win, Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, withdrew his bill in the Agriculture Committee. That killed the measure for the 2013 session without a vote on its merits.

Mining opponents claimed victory, saying any effort to lift the mining ban is probably dead this year — and maybe well beyond.

“They might try it again, but I don’t expect they will be successful for many years,” said Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico.

“This decision effectively ends further Senate consideration of uranium issues during this session,” said a statement from six Republican legislators from Southside Virginia who oppose lifting the ban. A company wants to mine uranium in Pittsylvania County in Southside.

Some mining supporters, however, indicated the fight wasn’t over.

In a lengthy statement, Watkins tossed the ball to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has taken no position on uranium mining. Watkins suggested McDonnell should direct state agencies to craft uranium-mining regulations, to show the safeguards that would be in place.

Typically, however, state agencies don’t make regulations until the legislature has passed a law authorizing them to do so.

If McDonnell feels he lacks the legal authority to create mining rules, “he certainly has the means to put that issue expeditiously before this legislature,” Watkins said.

McDonnell had no immediate response. Spokesman J. Tucker Martin said, “We have just received Senator Watkins’ statement and are currently reviewing it.”

The bill that Watkins withdrew would have required the state to craft regulations to oversee uranium mining. Both sides have said General Assembly approval would in effect lift the mining ban.

Virginia Uranium Inc. wants to mine and mill the radioactive metal from what it says is a roughly $7 billion, 119 million-pound deposit in Pittsylvania.

Patrick Wales, the company’s project manager, indicated Thursday that creation of mining rules could precede a vote on the mining ban.

“Senator Watkins’ suggested course of action would ensure that (legislators) would have the benefit of all possible information on this issue before casting a vote on lifting the moratorium,” Wales said in a statement.

Wales said the company “will continue to make our case to the people and the legislature for as long as it takes to succeed.”

On the Senate Agriculture Committee, mining opponents said nine to 12 members of the 15-member panel opposed Watkins’ measure.

A companion bill remains in the House, but its prospects appear dim even if it were to make it to the Senate.

Virginia Uranium says its Pittsylvania operation would provide hundreds of jobs and use modern methods that would not harm the environment. Opponents fear, among other things, that radioactive waste could pollute waters, including a drinking water source for much of South Hampton Roads.

Uranium fuels nuclear power plants. The Pittsylvania cache is believed to be the largest undeveloped uranium deposit in the U.S.

Virginia Uranium has lobbied hard, contributing more than $200,000 to campaigns from 2008 through 2012, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in state politics. Mining’s supporters included the Virginia Manufacturing Association and a Southside group of residents and businesses.

But a diverse array of groups opposed lifting the mining ban, including environmental organizations, the Virginia Farm Bureau, the Virginia chapter of the NAACP and, most recently, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.

Rex Springston: rspringston@timesdispatch.com;  (804) 649-6453

Full Article: http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/state-regional/virginia-politics/general-assembly/uranium-mining-proposal-suffers-major-defeat/article_5a5afaf6-92ce-536d-87f6-69f6c42ac790.html

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