Feedback and Followups - February 2013

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Legislative panel votes for lifting mining ban
Just before the start of the 2013 General Assembly session, the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, a legislative study panel, voted in favor of lifting Virginia’s 31-year moratorium on uranium mining.
The panel voted 11-2 to require the state to draft uranium-mining regulations but limiting operations only to Pittsylvania County. Virginia Uranium Inc. wants to mine and mill a 119 million-pound uranium deposit at Coles Hill near Chatham in the Southern Virginia county.

Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, and Del. Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, planned to introduce bills in the General Assembly to establish regulatory and licensing requirements for uranium mining and milling.

Watkins’ legislation would require the State Corporation Commission to issue a license before the company applies for permits from other state agencies. It also would require Virginia Uranium to store tailings, the residue from uranium milling, in below-grade containment facilities. The company already has said it plans to do that.

The issue has sharply divided Southern Virginia residents and members of the General Assembly. A study released in 2011 projected that the Coles Hill operation would support more than 1,000 jobs in an area that has chronically high unemployment.

Opponents, however, fear environmental damage and water pollution from tailings. They also have raised concerns about the stigma uranium mining might create for the area.

In December, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling announced his opposition to lifting the moratorium, saying “there are just too many unanswered questions, and the potential for adverse economic and environmental impacts is too great, to remove the ban.” Gov. Bob McDonnell had not taken a position by mid-January.

Virginia Business took an extensive look at uranium mining in its January 2012 issue and has followed developments in other stories since then.

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