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Bills filed to lift uranium ban, establish regulations

SoVaNow.com / January 21, 2013
BY MARY BETH JACKSON
Danville Register & Bee
Reprinted with permission


The first bill aimed at lifting the 1982 moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia was filed Friday.

Named the “Virginia Uranium Development Corporation Act,” it directs the state to write regulations for uranium mining and milling.

Filed in the House of Delegates by Manassas Republican Jackson Miller, the 20,275-word legislation, H.B. 2330, establishes licensing procedures and financial responsibility and provides the framework for health and environmental safeguards.

The bill would put into law many of the ideas talked about in the Uranium Working Group meetings, such as establishing a groundwater management area around the mine and the monitoring of air and water.

State Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, filed a similar bill Friday with the Senate Clerk. A bill number has not yet been assigned, so it won’t be available for viewing until Monday. As was the case with the uranium severance tax bills filed by Miller and Watkins in the House and Senate, respectively, Watkins’ legislation is expected to be nearly identical.

As of late Friday night, politicians and environmental groups were still sorting through the large legislation. Delegate Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania, and Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, commented on Miller’s bill in separate statements Friday evening.

Ruff criticized the bill’s origins in Northern Virginia.

“This legislation was introduced by legislators who have little interest about the concerns of those I represent in the General Assembly,” Ruff wrote. “They have little concern that the negative stigma which surrounds uranium mining and milling will have a direct and disastrous economic impact on our economy.”

In Friday’s statement, Merricks vowed a battle against both bills.

“I am extremely disappointed that, after years of study and review, legislation has been advanced which is a direct assault on the lives and livelihoods of the people and businesses I represent in Southern Virginia,” he wrote. “Just this week, Gov. McDonnell’s Uranium Working Group issued yet another report which confirmed what we have heard from business leaders like the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce and the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. Uranium mining is not in the best interest of the people we represent and will take us down the wrong path for the quality of life and stable economy in our area.”

He added, “This legislation is completely unacceptable and I will work with my delegation to fight it every step of the way.”

Merricks has previously said that he thinks uranium mining could be safely done, but has deeper concerns about uranium milling. “I can’t take both of them,” he told the Danville Register & Bee. “The way they presented it, it’s not acceptable. They didn’t put a bill in for mining and a bill in for milling.”

Cale Jaffe, director of Charlottesville office of the Southern Environmental Law Center, expressed dismay at the bill’s last-minute filing, and said uranium mining and milling is still a bad idea for Virginia.

“The National Academy of Sciences stated that uranium waste disposal sites ‘represent significant potential sources of contamination for thousands of years, and the long-term risks remain poorly defined,’” he said. “And this is drinking water for 1.1 million people. This is an area subject to hurricanes and other extreme weather events.”

Calls to Miller on Friday were not returned.

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