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Report: McAuliffe takes firm stance against uranium

When Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe takes office in January, he will veto any legislation that facilitates uranium mining in the state.

That’s what he said Monday while speaking to a group of reporters in Norfolk.

According to a published report in The Virginian-Pilot, McAuliffe promised to veto any bill that would lift the ban in place since 1982. He said he also will veto any legislation that would establish a regulatory framework for mining uranium in the state.

McAuliffe is quoted as saying, “I don’t support uranium mining. First and foremost as governor, my job is to make sure that our communities and our citizenry are safe. I’m not comfortable with the science to the point that I can say that with uranium mining, we would be safe. I’m afraid it would get into the drinking water.”

Referring to developing regulations for mining, McAuliffe said Monday there’s no point to it.

“Why would we be wasting our time and resources drafting regulations if we’re not going to lift the moratorium?” he asked.

Virginia Uranium Inc. is lobbying the General Assembly again to lift the 1982 ban so it can mine a 119 million-pound deposit of radioactive ore near Chatham in Pittsylvania County.

A similar effort failed last session in the Virginia Senate, with uranium mining supporters failing to get legislation ending the moratorium out of committee.

Virginia Coalition Chairman John Cannon said Tuesday he was elated to see McAuliffe take this stance on uranium mining.

“We were gratified at the governor’s decision, and we wish the last governor had done that. This is really a boost for us,” he said speaking on behalf of the Virginia Coalition.

Cannon describes the Virginia Coalition as “the most significant group to alert all of Virginia” to the possibilities of Virginia Uranium Inc. mining a 119-million-pound uranium ore deposit six miles from Chatham if the moratorium is lifted.

Currently, 16 lobbying groups throughout Virginia have joined Virginia Coalition’s cause along with 107 political jurisdictions and businesses that have passed resolutions against lifting the ban.

The coalition’s education/lobbyists, Eckert & Seamans in Richmond, are working all year long with five people designated to the sole effort of fighting lifting the ban at a cost of $10,000 per month during the session, Cannon continued.

In an effort to have the ban lifted, Virginia Uranium Inc. spent over $570,000 this past year in lobbying efforts and was by far the largest spender for lobbying in 2013, he said. This year, Cannon said Virginia Uranium has turned its efforts toward the executive branch to move forward with the approval of writing regulations before the legislatures can vote on it.

Referring to the gov.-elect’s recent statement opposing uranium mining, Cannon said, “His biggest concern is pollution of water in Norfolk and Virginia Beach.”

“We are moving forward,” Cannon said of the coalition’s efforts to keep the ban. “I’d rather be in our position than theirs,” he said referring to Virginia Uranium.

Should the ban be lifted, Cannon said it would be the worst thing that could happen to economic development in Halifax County, and that is why members of the coalition continue to fight lifting the ban.

“We’re not gone. We’re still here and still fighting. We want to cut off the head off this snake,” he concluded.

In an official company statement, Virginia Uranium Project Manager Patrick Wales said the company is “disappointed with the statements attributed to Governor-elect McAuliffe on the uranium issue.  And we find his comments surprising in light of his earlier statements, including just days before the election, in which he expressed a willingness to weigh the merits in terms of mining safety as well as economic impact for thousands of Virginians.  However, as we have said many times, Virginia Uranium is in this for the long haul, and we will be carefully considering how to proceed.”

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who earlier this month lost the gubernatorial race to McAuliffe, said in an October opinion that officials in Southern Virginia would have little regulatory control over uranium mining in Pittsylvania County should the current moratorium be lifted.

Cuccinelli essentially said Pittsylvania County would have no authority to regulate uranium mining while the moratorium is in place and would have very little influence should the General Assembly lift the moratorium.

In his opinion, Cuccinelli said state and federal law would have precedence in any event.

The attorney general cited the Dillon Rule in support of his opinion, the legal principle by which the state limits the reach of local government.

Meanwhile, Virginia Uranium has launched a new billboard on Route 29 at White Oak Mountain reiterating the company’s long-standing commitment to build and operate “the safest uranium mine in the world.” 

The new billboard sports a miner complete with hardhat and brightly colored vest, standing against a blue sky. 

A single statement proclaims, “Welcome to Pittsylvania County, future home of the safest uranium mine in the world.”

“For the people of Virginia Uranium, protecting the health, safety and environment of Southside Virginia has always been our top priority,” said Virginia Uranium, Inc. President and CEO Walter Coles Sr.