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UPDATE: Bolling on uranium mining: the impact could be “catastrophic”

South Boston News
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville. / December 14, 2012
Lt. Governor Bill Bolling announced today he supports keeping Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining in place, becoming the first statewide elected official to openly oppose the controversial Coles Hill mine project in Pittsylvania County.

Bolling appeared Friday afternoon at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville to state his opposition to lifting the ban. He said he came to his position after considering the impact of mining on the environmental and economic development prospects of the region.

While the risks of a mining accident may be low, “the impact of that could indeed be catastrophic, not only for this region but for other regions of the state,” said Bolling.

Acknowledging “there are compelling arguments on both sides, and goodness knows I’ve heard them over the past three years,” Bolling said he nonetheless believes that mining would be overall a negative for Virginia.

Key to his thinking, said Bolling, have been his conversations with civic, business and legislative leaders in the region, a group he described as overwhelmingly against mining.

“I have been particularly impressed by the fact not a single member of the state legislative delegation has expressed support for lifting the ban,” said Bolling.

He said anti-uranium mining sentiment was strong among “the vast majority” of people in southern Virginia he has talked to.

“I don’t think a bunch of politicians in Richmond should vote to lift the ban over the wishes” of residents of the region, he said.

As lieutenant governor, Bolling holds the tiebreaking vote in the evenly divided State Senate, split 20-20 between Democrats and Republicans. State Senator John Watkins, R-Powhatan, has announced he will introduce legislation in the 2013 session in January to create a regulatory framework for mining, essentially ending the 30-year moratorium in Virginia.

Bolling said he agreed that uranium mining would create jobs and capital investment in southern Virginia, but argued the short-term benefits likely would be cancelled out by the lasting stigma of mining on economic development in the region.

“We can’t just consider the potential short-term benefits of uranium mining operations,” he said, describing the project as more likely to pose a “hindrance” to efforts to strengthen Southside’s economy.

Bolling prefaced his remarks by noting the importance of Southside’s economic development, both to himself personally and to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has designated Bolling as the administrator’s chief jobs officer. He hailed the administration’s success in creating jobs in the region and bringing down persistent high levels of unemployment.

“I’m a pro-business guy,” said Bolling, adding, “I don’t take a position like this lightly.”

Bolling said the governor is continuing to review studies on uranium mining and may or may not make his views known leading up to the 2013 General Assembly session. The lieutenant governor said his decision to come out against uranium mining was his alone. While he has spoken to the governor about his stance, Bolling stressed he does not represent the administration on the mining issue.

Bolling noted he will be talking to legislators in both the State Senate and House of Delegates to explain his position and expects to be in the thick of the uranium mining debate in Richmond.

“I’m not a shrinking violet,” he said. “I’m not afraid to let folks know how I feel about things.”

Bolling was surrounded during the announcement by local elected officials, business leaders and two members of the General Assembly, Republican delegates Danny Marshall of Danville and Don Merricks of Pittsylvania. Both delegates praised Bolling for making his opposition to mining known.

“As chief jobs officer for the Commonwealth, that’s a big step on his part to do that,” said Merricks.

Also speaking briefly at the event were Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy and Town Council members Jack Dunavant and Bill Confroy.

In ad e-mailed statement Friday, Senator Watkins, the expected patron of a uranium mining bill, criticized Bolling for coming out against the project.

“I am disappointed by the Lt. Governor’s position on uranium mining. The legislation I am working on is not even complete and may very well address his concerns. I would have expected a more thoughtful approach to this issue from Bill given his commitment to creating jobs, particularly in Southside," said Watkins.

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