- Last Updated on 07:49 AM 01/14/13
- BY The Gazette-Virginian
Although Powhatan Republican Sen. John Watkins’ bill to lift the ban on uranium mining is still in the drafting stages, he held a news conference on Thursday to present a list of its key elements.
Attending the conference were dozens of Southside Virginia proponents of uranium mining who arrived by bus at the Capitol to promote ending the 30-year state moratorium.
Earlier in the week, a new organization of business, health and community professionals, calling themselves CommonHealth, held its own news conference to show bi-partisan, regional support for keeping the ban on uranium mining and milling in Virginia.
The Virginia Coal and Energy Commission voted on Monday to recommend the state draft uranium mining regulations.
Senator Watkins’ bill, which is expected to be introduced this week, will do just that.
Watkins, who serves as vice-chairman of the coal and energy commission, plans to introduce legislation during this year’s session to regulate uranium mining, and his bill will apply only to the Coles Hill deposit in Pittsylvania County, he said Monday.
He also intends to bring his bill before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
Jackson Miller, a Republican delegate from Manassas, said he will introduce similar legislation in the House this session.
Virginia Uranium Inc. is eager for legislators to lift the 30-year ban, so it can get started on the process to mine the deposit of ore located on Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County.
The Coles Hill uranium deposit is one of the world’s most significant undeveloped deposits of uranium ore. The mine is projected to produce up to 120 million pounds of yellow cake over its economic life. When fully operational, the mine is expected to produce 2 million pounds of yellow cake per year.
Watkins’ bill would call for the State Corporation Commission to be the lead licensing agency and would require Virginia Uranium to store for generations its uranium tailings in underground containment centers.
In addition, the Powhatan Senator has also introduced a bill (SB919) that would require Virginia Uranium Inc. to contribute a “3 percent severance tax on the gross receipts of any uranium severed from the earth” – 1-1/2 percent of that money would go to the state and 1-1/2 percent to Pittsylvania County only.
“That leaves those of us down wind and down stream ‘holding the bag,”’ said Del. James Edmunds of Halifax.
For Edmunds and most other legislators, uranium will loom as the dominant theme of the 2013 session with senators and delegates divided — not along party lines — but on economic development, environmental and quality of life issues.
Edmunds said he plans to focus “almost my entire energy” this General Assembly session on working with his fellow legislators to convince them to vote to keep the moratorium in place on uranium mining.
Over 160 statewide organizations, municipalities, as well as the majority of the state of North Carolina, have passed resolutions against lifting the ban.
He will be in Richmond through Feb. 23, and his office is located in Room 805 of the General Assembly building.