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Back door approach

Opponents of uranium mining may have had the upper hand Thursday when Sen. John Watkins withdrew his SB 1353 to avoid a vote because he knew 11 or 12 of the 15 on the Senate Ag Committee were against the bill that directed the state to write regulations for uranium mining and milling. 

But instead of celebrating victory, uranium opponents are warning local legislators to be ever vigilant because Watkins is now pressing the governor to use the Administrative Process Act to bring the uranium mining issue back from the brink of extinction.

We The People of Virginia, Inc. Chairman Jack Dunavant cautions that Senate Bill 1138 should be feared even more than Watkins’ previous uranium bill.

SB1138 establishes a 17-member Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium Authority as “a political subdivision of the commonwealth for the purposes of making the commonwealth a national and global leader in nuclear energy and serving as an interdisciplinary study, research and information resource for the commonwealth on nuclear energy issues.”

This bill is being viewed by many as a clever, back-door approach to pave the way for uranium mining on Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County before legislators ever vote to lift the ban.

 “SB1138 is a red herring,” according to the We the People chairman. “It is filled with the same buzz words Walter Coles (owner of Coles Hill) fed us at a meeting back in 2007.”

Jack refers to phrases like “making Virginia the nuclear capital of the world” as “propaganda right out of Areva’s playbook.”

“I can think of nothing more dangerous than setting up a ‘consortium’ where nuclear ‘experts’ play footsie with empire building bureacrats.  We need to nip this thing in the bud, now,” he is quick to add.

The Halifax town councilman fears if this bill proceeds, “it will come back to haunt us forever.”

SB1138 is, in some ways, more dangerous than John Watkins’ uranium mining bill, Jack believes, because this ‘consortium’ bill would allow giant uranium mining corporations to become an influential part of a quasi-governmental group with powers to influence legislation pertaining to uranium mining and nuclear energy.  

SB1138 states that this consortium is to be established “for the purposes of making the commonwealth a national and global leader in nuclear energy.”

Why would we want to do that given the past problems with nuclear power, he asks.

It’s not popular to be against nuclear power, but as long as nuclear waste continues to be stored in above ground containers at nuclear reactors across the nation, danger looms, Jack warns.

We agree that uranium mining is a genie that can’t be placed back in the bottle once it is loosed.

And many other reputable businesses and organizations agree too, having voiced their concerns against lifting the ban on uranium mining in Virginia.

A lengthy list of many of those opposed to uranium mining includes Bi-State Commission on the Roanoke River Basin, Brunswick County, City of Charlottesville, City of Chesapeake, City of Creedmoor, N.C., City of Danville, City of Henderson, N. C., City of Martinsville, City of Norfolk, City of Oxford, N.C., City of Portsmouth, City of Roanoke, City of Suffolk, City of Virginia Beach, Currituck County, N.C., Danville/Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, Fauquier County Water Authority, Fairfax County Water Authority, Fairfax Environmental Quality Committee, Floyd County, Granville County, N.C., Halifax County, N.C, Halifax County, Halifax County Chamber of Commerce, Halifax County Economic Development Commission (N.C.), Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, Halifax County Service Authority, Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments.

The list continues with Madison County, Mecklenburg County, Orange County, Patrick County, Pittsylvania County, Rappahannock County, Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission, Roanoke County, Roanoke River Mayors Association (N.C.), Southampton County, Town of Butner, N.C., Town of Clarksville, Town of Halifax, Town of Hurt, Town of Franklinton, N.C., Town of Louisburg, N.C., Town of Macon, N.C., Town of Middleburg, Town of Orange, Town of South Boston, Town of Warrenton, N.C., and Town of Williamston, N.C.

More governments and jurisdictions seeking to keep the ban on uranium mining include the Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments (five counties and 38 municipalities), Virginia Municipal League (39 cities, 156 towns and 10 counties), Vance County, N.C., Warren County, N.C., and Washington County, N.C.

Other organizations that have taken action related to keeping the ban include American Rivers, Brumfield Homeowners Association, Buggs Island Striper Club, Clean Water Action, Clean Water for North Carolina, Concerned Citizens of Tillery (N.C.), Cypress Group of the N.C. Sierra Club, Ecological Working Community of Tidewater Sowers of Justice, Environment Virginia, Float Fisherman of Virginia, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the New River, Friends of the Rappahannock, Garden Club of Virginia, Goose Creek Association, Greater Washington Interfaith Power & Light, Halifax County Business Horizons, Inc. (N.C.), Halifax County Farm Bureau, Kerr Lake Bassmasters, Lake Gaston Association and Lynnhaven Colony Congregational Church (Virginia Beach), United Church of Christ.

Even more organizations include Medical Society of Virginia, Merifield Acres Landowners’ Association (N.C.), Mothers United Against Uranium Mining NAACP, Virginia State Conference, NAACP Appomattox County Chapter, NAACP Lynchburg Chapter, NAACP Martinsville-Henry County Chapter, NAACP Matthews Chapter, NAACP Nottoway Chapter, National Wildlife Federation, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, North Carolina Roanoke River Basin Advisory Committee, North Carolina Water Resources Congress, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Occupy Virginia Beach, Orange County Farm Bureau, Patrick Environmental Awareness Group, Plowshare Peace & Justice Center, Roanoke Rapids Sanitary District, Roanoke River Partners, Smith Mountain Lake Association, Smith Mountain Striper Club, Inc., Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, South Hampton Roads Chapter, Virginia Organizing, Trout Unlimited, Virginia Council, United Methodist Conference of Virginia, United Methodist Holston Conference, Caretaker’s of God’s Creation – United Methodist environmental committee, University of Mary Washington Ecology Club, University of Mary Washington President’s Council for Sustainability, University of Mary Washington Student Senate, Upper Roanoke River Roundtable, Virginia Alliance for a Cleaner Environment, Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Virginia Bass Federation, Virginia Catholic Conference, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation (representing 88 farm bureaus and 146,000 farm families), Virginia Municipal League (representing 39 cities, 156 towns, 10 counties), Virginia New Majority, Virginia Organizing, Volunteer groups of Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter: Keep the Ban, Chesapeake, Keep the Ban, Norfolk UBAN, Floyd County, Roanoke Group of the Sierra Club, Sierra Club Keep the Ban Team, Martinsville, We the People of Virginia and Zion Baptist Church, Hampton.

With this many jurisdictions, organizations, churches and groups of concerned citizens going on record with their opposition to lifting the moratorium on uranium mining, there’s got to be something to these fears and concerns.

Local legislators must be ever vigilant. It seems the multi-billion dollar uranium game continues on, and this time the lines may not be as clearly drawn.