Uranium mining: Ball is in Virginia governor’s court

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 03:02 PM


Sensing defeat among fellow Virginia lawmakers, supporters of legislation lifting a ban on uranium mining have now turned to an alternative path through Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Sen. John Watkins, a Republican from Powhatan, was leading the charge and intended to have a bill on uranium mining regulations go through the Senate. Last week, he withdrew his version upon learning it faced almost certain defeat in committee before ever reaching the Senate floor.

In the House of Delegates, Del. Jackson Miller asked Del. Terry Kilgore, the chairman of the Commerce and Labor Committee, not to bring forward his companion legislation. The request denied the bill from getting out of committee by Tuesday, the crossover day when legislation with a chance of passing must move from one chamber to the other during Virginia’s 43-day short session.

Watkins subsequently asked McDonnell, who has not publicly stated his support for either side in the controversial battle that could impact Kerr Lake in North Carolina, to direct state agencies to draw up regulations for mining. The Associated Press reported calls and emails from lobbyists have begun going to the governor’s office since Watkins’ request.

The request to lift the ban is tied to Virginia Uranium Inc., which wants to mine a site at Coles Hill near Chatham, Va. The site was discovered in the late 1970s before uranium prices plummeted. A ban on uranium mining was enacted in 1982 and with the surge in prices so, too, has come the urgency to lift the ban and begin mining.

The site, located in the Roanoke River Basin which feeds Kerr Lake and drinking water to about 1.9 million people in North Carolina and Virginia, is believed to have a 119-million pound deposit worth an estimated $7 billion.

If McDonnell does follow through and ask for regulations to be prepared, the General Assembly would still have to give approval to lifting the ban. After that and other federal regulations are met, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors would have final say with a special use permit.

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.