Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling opposes lifting Virginia’s 30-year-old moratorium on uranium mining.
“Advocates on both sides of this debate have done an effective job advocating their point of view,“ he said in a statement on Friday. “I have listened carefully to this debate, and after a great deal of consideration I have come to the conclusion that the Virginia General Assembly should maintain the ban on uranium mining and milling in Virginia.“
Virginia Uranium Inc. wants the ban lifted so that it can mine and mill a 119-million-pound uranium deposit in the Coles Hill section of Pittsylvania County near Chatham.
The lieutenant governor is the first statewide officer holder to take a position on the uranium-mining ban. Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have not indicated if they would support or oppose lifting the moratorium.
State Sen. John Watkins (R-Midlothian) said he was disappointed by Bolling’s stance. In the General Assembly session beginning next month, Watkins plans to offer legislation that would establish state regulations for a uranium mining industry in Virginia.
“The legislation I am working on is not even complete and may very well address his concerns,“ the senator said in a statement. “I would have expected a more thoughtful approach to this issue from Bill given his commitment to creating jobs, particularly in Southside.”
Watkins said Bolling’s stance is “shortsighted,“ adding it “denies people even the possibility of well-paying jobs and the opportunity to help the commonwealth and the nation meet its energy needs.“
Bolling said that, while the advocates for uranium mining have highlighted the potential economic benefits of a mining operation, “it is my belief that there are just too many unanswered questions, and the potential for adverse economic and environmental impacts is too great, to remove the ban.“
The lieutenant governor said that lifting the moratorium ban could have a chilling impact on efforts to recruit new businesses and create jobs in Southern Virginia and also could have a harmful effect on existing businesses in the region.
He also said he is worried about “the potential impact that an incident at the mine might have on the environment and, subsequently, citizens in Southern Virginia and beyond,“
Bolling noted “almost every member of the Southern Virginia delegation of the Virginia General Assembly opposes removing the ban on uranium mining, and the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce has expressed its opposition to removing the ban as well. If political and business leaders in the region that could benefit the most from uranium mining believe the ban should stay in place, politicians in Richmond should not lift the ban against their wishes.
The lieutenant governor’s stance on uranium has extra weight because he has served as “chief jobs officer” for the McDonnell administration.
Many people who want to lift the moratorium have argued that uranium mining and milling would be an economic boon to an area of the commonwealth that has lost thousands of textile, furniture and tobacco jobs in recent decades.
If uranium mining legislation is taken up in the next General Assembly session, Bolling could represent the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, which already is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
The state Uranium Working Group recently presented its report about possible industry regulations to the Uranium Mining Subcommittee of the Coal and Energy Commission at a meeting in Chatham. The working group made no recommendations on the moratorium.
The same day that the working group presented its findings to the commission, the Danville Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce announced its opposition to lifting the moratorium.
Today a group calling itself People for Economic Prosperity announced its support for lifting the moratorium. The group said it has more than 1,200 members, including 240 local small-business owners, 150 farmers and more than 800 area citizens.
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