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Lawmakers to governor: Don’t give in to uranium

Six Southside Virginia legislators are asking Gov. Bob McDonnell not to proceed with developing new mining regulations as he is being asked to do by uranium supporters after legislation for that same purpose failed last month.

In a Feb. 6 hand-delivered letter to the governor, Sens. Frank Ruff Jr. and Bill Stanley and Delegates James Edmunds, Donald Merricks, Danny Marshall and Thomas Wright asked for a meeting with the governor to further express their concerns outlined in the letter.

They “strongly urge” the governor not to “intervene in this matter by calling for the development of regulations, nothwithstanding the failure of the General Assembly to pass an underlying statute.”

The letter continues,
“The General Assembly has concluded the risks are too great to approve lifting the moratorium on mining. Please do not ignore the will of the General Assembly. To ignore the overwhelming opposition to uranium mining that has been expressed by citizens and organizations across the commonwealth does not fit with representative government. An issue as divisive as this should be dealt with by the legislative process prior to expending more taxpayer funds,” the letter said.

On Jan. 31, Sen. John Watkins pulled a bill to effectively lift the ban on uranium mining just before it was to be voted on by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

Sen. John Watkins’ Bill 1353 would have introduced legislation to establish regulatory and licensing requirements for Virginia Uranium Inc., the Chatham-based company that hopes to mine the Coles Hill deposit in Pittsylvania County. 

The bill is aimed at lifting the 30-year moratorium on uranium mining and is specific to the Coles Hill site.

Watkins withdrew his legislation when it became clear the majority of the 15-member panel were opposed to lifting the ban.

Immediately after pulling his bill, Watkins began pressing the governor to use the Administrative Process Act to bring the uranium mining issue back.

“I hope the governor will direct his agencies to proceed under the APA to answer these questions via duly adopted regulations,” Watkins said in a sharply-worded statement. “And if he feels he lacks the authority to do so, he certainly has the means to put that issue expeditiously before this legislature.”

For his part, McDonnell has remained mum on the issue. His office said in January that he has not yet decided when — or if — to take a position.

“In the final analysis,” legislators tell the governor, “the majority of our constituents – the people who are closest to the mine site itself – are deeply concerned about the effects this operation would have on our water, our environment, our agriculture and our long-term economic health.

“We are gratified that a significant majority of our legislative colleagues clearly have the same concerns,” the letter adds.