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Supreme Court to hear challenge to uranium mining ban / May 23, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit by Virginia Uranium Inc. to overturn the state’s longstanding ban on uranium mining.

In a one-line order issued Monday morning, the justices granted the company’s request for an appeal of the case. Virginia Uranium is seeking a reversal of an appellate court ruling that upheld Virginia’ jurisdiction over mining and milling operations in the state — including upstream on the Roanoke River basin in Chatham, where VUI has long sought to mine an ore deposit that has been estimated to be worth $10 billion.

The lawsuit by VUI contends that jurisdiction over uranium mining belongs to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission under the 1954 Atomic Energy Act. The company alleges that Virginia has overstepped its authority with the mining moratorium, first put in effect in 1982.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, whose office has led the defense of the mining ban, said Virginia has already won the case twice in lower court proceedings and is prepared to do so again.

“Virginia is well within its rights to prohibit uranium mining within its own borders, as it has for more than 30 years. Federal law does not override the decision the Commonwealth made after weighing the significant risks of an unprecedented uranium mining operation. My team and I have successfully defended the moratorium at trial and on appeal, and we are confident we can do so again at the Supreme Court,” Herring said.

The state’s legal team is preparing for a hearing before the Supreme Court sometime in the fall.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Julie Rautio, a spokeswoman for Virginia Uranium in Chatham, said the mining company’s leadership is heartened by the decision. Most of the land proposed for the mine is owned by the Coles family, which has lived for generations in Pittsylvania County.

“Obviously, they’re thrilled that the court is going to hear the case,” Rautio told the newspaper.

By agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court will review the lower court rulings against VUI, most recently in the form of a 2-1 decision by a panel of the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. “A decision to grant or deny [the appeal] is not a decision on the merits,” said Cale Jaffe, director of the Environmental and Regulatory Law Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law. “I’d admonish people not to read more into it than there is.”

Virginia Uranium gained an assist in March when the Justice Department filed a supplemental brief supporting the company’s position on the matter.

State Sen. Frank Ruff of Clarksville, a mining opponent, said this week he was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to accept the appeal but “it is what it is and will deal with as such.

“The Virginia Attorney General and the Solicitor General will deal with representing Virginia. The Roanoke River Basin Association, on which I serve, filed an Amicus brief when the case was before the 4th Circuit Court. That will follow to the Supreme Court,” Ruff said.

Del. Tommy Wright, another mining opponent, said, ““It is a terrible risk to clean water, groundwater and economic development to this area. I serve as the chair of the state water commission and I am in the process of calling a meeting to discuss what further steps we need to take.”

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