Uranium mining takes center stage today in RichmondAssociated Press |
RICHMOND — As the debate over uranium mining heads to the legislature, a new group has been created supporting Virginia's decades-old ban on mining the radioactive ore.
CommonHealthVA.org made its debut Monday. Its organizers say it represents more than 50 municipalities and groups. They include the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, the Southern Environmental Law Center and other groups that have previously stated their opposition to uranium mining.
The new group announced its creation just one hour before the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission was to take up uranium mining. It is expected to offer a recommendation on whether the General Assembly should begin developing regulations for uranium mining. The legislature convenes on Wednesday.
Virginia Uranium Inc. has proposed tapping a 119-million-pound deposit of the ore in Pittsylvania County.
New group forms to fight uranium mining
BY MARY BETH
RICHMOND — Speaking for a new coalition of people opposed to uranium mining and milling in Virginia, Delegate Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said “Uranium and Southside do not go together.”
Monday’s Coal and Energy Commission meeting was preceded by a news conference by the newly formed CommonHealthVA.org, a coalition speaking on behalf of citizens’ groups, localities and community organizations that are opposing the lifting of Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining and milling.
A number of speakers came forward, including Marshall, who said Southside remains opposed to Virginia Uranium’s plans.
Virginia Uranium wants to mine a 119-million-pound ore deposit six miles from Chatham in Pittsylvania County. The company and its lobbyists want the state to write regulations for uranium mining and milling — a move that would effectively lift the 1982 moratorium on the industry.
Marshall said his stuffed email box reflects a “smart” onslaught by the company’s lobbying firms, but not the wishes of the people in his district.
“They were very smart,” he said, pitching the project on the number of jobs that could be created in Southside, which has been slammed by the closing or exodus of manufacturers in textiles, apparel, tobacco and furniture.
Marshall said he believes mining jobs at Virginia uranium will not be filled by folks from Southside, but experienced miners from Southwest Virginia, where deep layoffs have sidelined coal miners. Alpha Natural Resources announced in September it would shutter three Virginia mines and shed 1,200 jobs company-wide, reported the Bristol Herald Courier.
He said Virginia Uranium claims of hundreds of high-paying jobs for Southside and an economic boon is “like a fish tale that just gets bigger.”
Delegate James Edmunds, R-South Boston, said just the potential for a nearby uranium mine and mill puts a pox on Southside’s real estate. He said sellers and their agents are already running into problems with stigma.
“It is real, genuine and not made up,” he said.
Orange County farmer Bill Spieden said regulations should not be written “until the industry develops proven safeguards” against detrimental environmental impact.
Legislators should take heed of their voice, said Chatham native and Halifax nurse Terry Andrews.
“This is our community, this is our home, and we don’t want this,” she said.
Jackson reports for the Danville Register & Bee.
Governor still mum on uranium
BY MARY BETH
RICHMOND — Gov. Bob McDonnell is keeping his silence on the uranium mining issue, citing the absence of a final-but-delayed socioeconomic impact.
In a letter read by Delegate Terry Kilgore, chairman of the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, the governor said he had received an interim report on the socioeconomic study, and saw uncertainties. Kilgore shared the letter’s contents with the Coal and Energy Commission today.
“I can say at this point that results seem to be mixed about whether or not this should go forward,” McDonnell wrote.
He added: “I feel like I should wait for this final report before making a final decision on this issue.”
McDonnell formed the Uranium Working Group a year ago to research the potential benefits and pitfalls of allowing uranium mining and milling in Virginia. The group submitted its final report in December to governor, but it was missing the socioeconomic component.
That report could not be finished by the December deadline. Instead, the report is due Jan. 15.
The working group’s contractor for the report, Wright Engineering, had a difficult time finding a subcontractor that could do the work that didn’t have ties to factions on either side of the uranium mining debate. The firm eventually contracted ORI, a Herndon company, to do the work, but the late start pushed back its completion.
Jackson reports for the Danville Register & Bee.
Va. uranium mining wins 1st legislative test
Proposed uranium mining in Virginia easily survived its first legislative test Monday, with lawmakers recommending the development of regulations for the mining of the radioactive ore.
Those rules _ and whether a 30-year ban on such mining is lifted _ ultimately would need to be approved by the General Assembly.
The Coal and Energy Commission voted 11-2 in support of legislation proposed by Sen. John Watkins that would have the effect of limiting mining to one company and the only known, commercially viable deposit of uranium in the state: Virginia Uranium Inc. and a 119-million-pound deposit in state's southern tier that is the largest in the U.S. It is valued at $7 billion. The bill also would set forth rules for the company's mining operation.
Opponents shouted out protests after the commission voted. "We will never forget what you've done," a woman said from the audience that included many people wearing neon green T-shirts reading "Keep the Ban."
Virginia Uranium welcomed the commission's recommendation and deemed it an important step by a panel that has grappled with the issue for years.
"I think it's significant, a very positive sign," said Patrick Wales, project manager for the mining company. "It's not just any commission. It is the commission that has presided over this for the past five years."
The General Assembly is expected to take up uranium mining in its 2013 session that convenes Wednesday.
"It's going to be close," said Watkins, a Republican from Powhatan and a commission member. "This is a big deal."
Full-scale uranium mining has never occurred on the East Coast. Critics contend mining and processing the ore has the potential to be an environmental nightmare if a catastrophic storm or torrential rains slammed Southside Virginia. The deposit is in the region along the North Carolina line, and is where radioactive waste would be stored for generations.
Virginia Uranium contends mining the so-called Coles Hill project and the milling can be done safely using best industry practices. It has said it will store the waste in below-ground containment units.
Watkins, who said he expects to have the legislation in hand by next week, said the bill would be crafted so "the Coles Hill people would be the only people who would qualify."
Asked why he would limit uranium mining in the state, Watkins said: "Because I want the bill to pass."
Critics contend that allowing uranium mining at the Coles Hill deposit could lead to other mining in other parts of the state, including central and northern Virginia where mining companies have shown interest in possible uranium deposits.
"Clearly this is an attempt to win the votes of northern Virginia delegates, to say it's not going to be in your backyard, don't worry," said Mike Pucci, a uranium mining opponent from North Carolina. "The toxicity is going to be limited to southern Virginia and all of North Carolina."
Wales said Virginia Uranium is interested only in the Coles Hill site, one of the largest known deposits in the world.
Virginia Uranium has said the expected life of the uranium mine would be 35 years. It would employ approximately 350, the company has said, pressing an economic argument in an economically weak area.
Watkins was pressed on his legislation after the meeting and advised reporters that specifics would be clear once the bill has been drafted.
Robert G. Burnley, a former director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality who now is affiliated with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the legislation is a "de facto" vote on ending the 31-year ban.
"I think that the idea is not to take an up-or-down vote on lifting the ban because it's such an emotional issue and there's so much indisputable evidence against uranium mining," he said.
The moratorium was put in place 1982, several years after the Coles Hill discovery, when interest in mining and the price of uranium waned following an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. Virginia Uranium resurrected the issue several years as the nation appeared headed to a nuclear power renaissance. The uranium at Coles Hill would be processed into yellowcake to fuel nuclear reactors.
The company has lobbied hard to end the ban, flying legislators to France and Canada on its tab to tour mining and milling facilities and giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to legislators. Several members of the Coal and Energy Commission have received contributions from the company.
While environmental groups have led the charge against mining, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation took the unexpected step of opposing mining, and municipal groups have also joined in the opposition. Virginia Beach, which draws public drinking water from southern Virginia, has also taken a stand against mining, as well as other cities in Hampton Roads.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap.