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Local lawmakers ready to battle to keep moratorium (2)

Legislators will return to Richmond on Wednesday when the General Assembly reconvenes for its short session, and Delegate James Edmunds II and Senator Frank Ruff say they are ready to fight to keep uranium in the ground in Pittsylvania County.

As they join fellow legislators to take on several pressing issues this legislative session, the one local legislators are giving highest priority is the controversial topic of uranium mining that will affect all Southside citizens.

“It certainly is to me, absolutely it will be the most important issue,” said Edmunds.

Ruff agrees the uranium issue will be the most pressing issue affecting Southside.

“It will affect so many people, affecting health, safety,” said Ruff.

Ruff said if the moratorium is lifted it could dampen the economic development in the region, affecting everything “in our lives.”

He’s been talking with firms retained by businesses and various members of the General Assembly on the agriculture, conservation and natural resources committees and discussing how they plan to work to keep the ban on uranium mining.

“Southside legislators stand together, and I hope that carries a lot of weight,” said Edmunds.

“We encourage citizens if they have friends or family members in other parts of the state to inform them,” added Ruff.

Edmunds and Ruff both agree that rallying the people is very important because citizens will be given the opportunity to speak at committee hearings.

“I want to see heads in the room. That shows that the issue means enough to you that you took time off of work and came,” said Edmunds.

“I’ve tried to tell them that Coles Hill is not the only site,” he added.

He also warned that short notice may be given of the committee hearing to lift the ban, and those interested in attending should make their employers aware they may have to miss work giving little notice.

The first step of the battle begins today when the legislature’s Coal and Energy Commission, a panel of House and Senate members, is expected to make a recommendation on proposed legislation to establish a state regulatory framework for uranium mining. The regulations must be in place before the state’s 1982 moratorium on uranium mining can be lifted.

This follows the Uranium Working Group, a multi-agency group tasked with studying the possibility or mining uranium in Virginia, in December releasing its 125-page report to Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Comprised of staff from the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Quality, the group was tasked with providing the General Assembly information to aid in the legislative decision making process.

The group met weekly from January to November and held six meetings to provide information and answer questions from the public this year.

During the yearlong process group members assessed the risks and benefits of uranium mining and evaluated what would be required in a “conceptual regulatory framework” if mining development were to proceed.

Although the working group’s report does not offer recommendations on whether or not to lift the ban on uranium mining, the General Assembly is expected to use the report of what potential regulatory framework would look like if it decides to lift the current moratorium on uranium mining in the state.

The statewide ban on mining uranium has been in place since the early 1980s.

Virginia Uranium Inc. is eager for legislators to lift the 30-year ban, so it can begin mining a 119-million pound deposit of ore located on Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County.

In its report, the Uranium Working Group explored environmental and health issues related to uranium mining.

If the General Assembly during the upcoming legislative session decides to lift the moratorium, it will be necessary to amend and adopt statutes and authorize the subsequent development of actual regulations pursuant to the Virginia Administrative Process Act.  

Also expected to be addressed in the upcoming legislative session is the continual budget issues of transportation, education and law enforcement.

“The governor is focusing on K-12 education. I’ve been focusing on workforce training,” said Ruff.

According to Ruff, getting citizens prepared to go into those fields isn’t something that can be done overnight. “It’ll take time.”

Edmunds believes a number of pieces of gun legislation will be proposed as a result of the Connecticut shooting in December, and Sunday hunting could be addressed again.

Ruff added he doesn’t want to predict what the session holds but that legislators will “do what we can.”

“We’ll do the best we can,” Ruff concluded.

“I believe it will be the longest short session in history,” Edmunds added.