'Spending' is high for potential uranium site

Jan. 22, 2013 @ 07:36 PM

While Kerr Lake’s water levels have grown to pleasing levels, anxiety remains over the future of the lake if a uranium mining ban is lifted in Virginia.

At the state capitol in Richmond on Monday, advocates on many issues — including uranium — came on what is known as Lobby Day. A bill was introduced last week that would create regulatory measures on uranium mining, which has been banned since 1982.

The Associated Press reported earlier this week lobbyists wanting the law repealed gave state legislators nearly $140,000 in campaign contributions the past two years. The information came from a nonprofit, nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog, the Virginia Public Access Project.

Virginia Uranium Inc., the company which wants to mine a potential $7.5 billion deposit at Coles Hill about 50 miles as the crow flies from Henderson, gave another $139,000 in 2011 and 2012.

The report indicated both Republicans and Democrats were given donations.

Richard L. Saslaw, the Senate Democratic leader, received $15,000 for his political action committee. House Republican Caucus chairman Timothy Hugo and Senate Republican Caucus chairman Ryan McDougle took in $10,000 each, and Senate Republican leader Thomas Norment $9,500.

In all, 15 legislators reported gifts from Virginia Uranium and allied lobbying firms primarily for travel to France to visit uranium mines.

Delegates John Cosgrove and Onzlee Ware, a Republican and Democrat, respectively, reported travels of between $12,250 and $12,500 each, according to the AP. Sen. John Watkins, reportedly one of the General Assembly’s wealthiest members, reported nearly $12,000 in travel paid by the group, and Del. Lionel Spruill reported more than $11,500 worth of travel.

The liberal Brookings Institution is among the latest to weigh in on the Virginia uranium debate. Charles Ebinger wrote for the institute, one of the most respected research institutions in the country, that Virginia should mine the site.

Earlier, The Washington Post (liberal leaning) and Heritage Foundation (conservative leaning) had endorsed uranium mining in Virginia.

Watkins, as had been expected, has introduced the legislation for regulations on uranium mining. In a piece he wrote for Richmond’s Times-Dispatch newspaper this past weekend, Watkins said the legislation introduced doesn’t authorize mining and that Coles Hill is “years of public input and regulatory review” from becoming an active site. He further noted that the Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors, by virtue of permitting, would have final say on mining at the site.

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.