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Bolling announces opposition to uranium mining and milling in state

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the job creation czar in Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration, joined local legislators, officials and businessmen in Danville Friday afternoon to announce his opposition to uranium mining and milling in Virginia.

Virginia Uranium Inc. wants to mine and mill a 119-million-pound uranium ore deposit at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County, located about six miles from Chatham. 

Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, has said he will sponsor a bill in the upcoming General Assembly session directing the state to write regulations for uranium mining and milling, which would effectively lift the 30-year moratorium if signed into law.

Bolling, who last month suspended his campaign for governor, said Friday’s press conference was not about politics, but all about uranium.

His decision to oppose uranium mining, he said, boiled down to the fact he believes lifting the ban would make it harder for existing Southside businesses to grow and more difficult to bring additional business to the area.

 “Over the past year much has been written about the proposal to lift the ban on uranium mining and milling in Virginia.  Advocates on both sides of this debate have done an effective job advocating their point of view.  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.

 “My opposition to removing the ban on uranium mining and milling is based on three primary concerns: 

“First, I am concerned that removing this ban could have a chilling impact on our efforts to recruit new business, industry and jobs to Southern Virginia, and it could also have a harmful impact on numerous existing businesses in the region.  Over the past three years we have worked hard to get the economy of Southern Virginia back on track, and we should not do anything that could work at cross purposes with the progress we have made.

“Second, even though two well-respected organizations have completed reviews of the efficacy of removing the ban on uranium mining and milling, I believe there are still too many unanswered questions regarding the potential impact that an incident at the mine might have on the environment and, subsequently, citizens in Southern Virginia and beyond.  Given these legitimate environmental concerns, I believe the ban on uranium mining should remain in place.

 “Third, 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.

 “While the advocates for uranium mining have highlighted the potential economic impact of a successful mining operation, and I am sensitive to those arguments, 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,” Bolling concluded.

Attending Bolling’s announcement in Danville Friday were several members of Halifax Town Council along with Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy. Espy and Town Council members Jack Dunavant and Bill Confroy offered brief remarks during the press conference.

Sen. Watkins was quick to criticize Bolling’s decision to oppose uranium mining. In an emailed statement Watkins said he was disappointed by the lieutenant governor’s position on uranium mining. 

“The legislation I am working on is not even complete and may very well address his concerns. I would have expected a more thoughtful approach to this issue from Bill given his commitment to creating jobs, particularly in Southside.”

“The legislation will not authorize uranium mining, it will only set the rules and standards required of any company seeking a permit to do so. Those rules will protect the public and the environment, and provide the opportunity for other economic development projects to thrive,” Watkins said.

“Taking a position that denies people even the possibility of well-paying jobs and the opportunity to help the commonwealth and the nation meet its energy needs, is incredibly short-sighted and deeply disappointing,” the Powhatan senator concluded.

On Thursday in Northern Virginia, the Fairfax County Water Authority also passed a resolution opposing the mining of uranium in the state.