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Uranium mining bill hits initial setback
SoVaNow.com / January 24, 2013The legislative push to lift Virginia’s ban on uranium mining may have suffered a setback this week with the assignment of a Senate bill to the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources committee, considered hostile to the idea.
Senate Bill 1353, sponsored by pro-uranium Republican Senator John Watkins of Powhatan, aims to establish regulations for the permitting of uranium mining at the Coles Hill site in Pittsylvania County. Watkins had pressed to hear the bill in the Senate Commerce and Labor committee, which he chairs, but instead it will go to the agriculture committee.
Clarksville Senator Frank Ruff, reached yesterday in Richmond, said “we are all delighted that the bill was sent to AG and Natural Resources. We believe that was the proper placement because all mining issues go there. We also believe we have more allies there.”
Ruff counts between eight and 11 members of the Ag and Natural Resources Committee opposed to Watkins’ bill. The committee has 15 members.
The Senate Ag and Natural Resources Committee is chaired by Emmett Hanger (R- Mt. Solon) and includes Republicans Ruff (Clarksville), Harry Blevins (Chesapeake), Mark Obenshain (Harrisonburg), Richard Stuart (Montross), Bill Stanley (Franklin), Richard Black (Leesburg), and Watkins. Democratic members are Phillip Puckett (Tazewell), Donald McEachin (Richmond), J. Chapman Petersen (Fairfax), Ralph Northam (Painter), David Marsden (Burke), John Miller (Newport News), and Adam Ebbin (Alexandria).
As of Wednesday, the bill was not on the schedule for a hearing. The Ag and Natural Resources Committee meets Thursday afternoons, immediately following Senate sessions.
A companion bill in the House of Delegates has been assigned to that chamber’s commerce committee. The House legislation is sponsored by Manassas representative Jackson Miller, acting on behalf of Virginia Uranium, Inc., which wants to mine the Pittsylvania ore deposit, estimated to have a market value of $7 billion.
The Senate committee could opt to kill Watkins’ bill and keep it from coming up for a full floor vote by the 40-member body. However, that might not be enough to doom VUI’s chances in the legislature. If Miller’s bill makes it through the House of Delegates, it would go over to the Senate for a vote.
The House and Senate bills spell out conditions for mining uranium in Pittsylvania, including a requirement that VUI pay both application and annual fees, which would be used to defray the cost of administering any uranium mining program.
The bills’ sponsors note that although Virginia would be establishing a regulatory framework for uranium mining, the decision on whether to permit mining at Coles Hill would rest in local hands.
In a recent op-ed piece for The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Watkins wrote, “Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the final authority to approve the Coles Hill project will remain in the hands of the Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors. In other words, the elected leaders of Pittsylvania County, not members of the General Assembly, will have the final say on whether uranium will be mined there. That is as it should be.
On Wednesday, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors voted 5-1 in support of a resolution asking the General Assembly to keep the ban, and not consider legislation to lift the moratorium, said Andrew Lester, Executive Director of the Roanoke River Basin Association.
Lester said the vote by the governing body of Pittsylvania County sends a clear message: “The only people who are in favor of lifting the ban are those who are going to make money or think they are going to make money on mining. We are very happy with the vote and cautiously optimistic that the legislature will not move forward on lifting the ban.”
Virginia has had a moratorium on uranium mining since 1982.
Even with the recent stance taken by the Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors, Lester said he and supporters of keeping the ban are not standing pat. The next step for opponents is a rally in Richmond on Monday to urge the General Assembly to keep the ban.
On Monday, a busload of opponents from Southside are traveling to Richmond to rally against uranium mining. Anyone interested in joining the rally should contact Sarah Dunavant at 434-572-7329.
CommentsI hope anybody will run against Ruff. Anybody-But-Ruff is the proper vote!!!!!
- By Vote on 01 / 27 / 13
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