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Lawmakers urged to keep uranium mining ban in 2012
Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County, gestures Wednesday with other leaders during a news conference on uranium mining concerns at the Capitol in Richmond. From right are First Piedmont Corp. Chairman Ben Davenport, Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, and
Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville. The names of the others were not available. (AP)
Thursday, January 19, 2012
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS -
RICHMOND - Legislators, business leaders and medical professionals from southern Virginia asked the General Assembly on Wednesday to abandon any plans to consider an end to the state's 30-year ban on uranium mining.
They said legislators instead should study several reports issued in recent weeks and months on the effect of mining a 119-million-pound uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County. It's the largest known deposit of the radioactive ore in the United States and one of the largest in the world.
The studies have raised the environmental risks of mining and milling and have recommended a robust regulatory structure to oversee it. Some have also outlined the significant economic benefits of tapping a deposit valued at a minimum of $7 billion.
The General Assembly's bill-filing deadline is Friday for this session and no one had introduced a measure to end the ban. Some legislators have encouraged Gov. Bob McDonnell to play a role in the debate, and he has asked state experts to review a National Academy of Sciences report issue from December.
In a separate appeal to McDonnell on Wednesday, legislators on a subcommittee that has overseen the uranium debate suggested that state agencies such as the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy could prepare draft uranium mining regulations this year and defer consideration until the 2013 session. The letter also said the 2013 General Assembly could consider a revenue-sharing proposal for communities near the mine.
In response, the governor's office said in a statement, "The administration is continuing to review the NAS study, with a focus on public safety, and we will have further comment at the appropriate time."�
Opponents of lifting the ban this year spoke collectively as The Virginia Coalition and The Alliance for Progress in Southern Virginia. The lineup included a half-dozen senators and delegates representing districts near the Chatham uranium deposit, hospital administrators and business leaders. They spoke before an audience of white-coated medical professionals.
They said the studies had raised more questions than they answered and that the state could not gamble on an industry that poses environmental threats, even though it also promises hundreds of jobs and $1 billion in economic benefits for a region with some of the state's highest unemployment. Business leaders said a uranium mining and milling operation would deter other economic development in the region.
"We seek the best environment to attract and grow world class businesses," said Ben Davenport, chairman of First Piedmont Corp., a waste removal company in Chatham. "In this regard, we worry about the stigma of uranium mining."�
Most opposition to mining and milling - the separation or the radioactive ore from rock - has focused on environmental concerns. Critics say Virginia is subject to intense weather, including drenching rains, which they fear could spread radioactive waste from the milling operation into water used for public supplies by cities as far away as Virginia Beach.
The appeal Wednesday was one of the strongest involving the business community. Bankers, economic development officials and a retired officer of Dan River Mills were among the speakers.
"There are simply too many unanswered questions and too many potential risks and concerns for me to be comfortable with lifting the ban on uranium mining at this time," said Charley Majors, chairman of American National Bank.
Del. Don Merricks, a Chatham Republican, said, "While there is potential for economic gain, there is also a potential for economic loss."�
Virginia Uranium, which has said the mining and milling can be conducted safely, responded with a statement that said it has long argued for "robust regulations" for uranium mining to ensure the protection of public health and the environment.
"The ultimate lifting of the legislative moratorium on uranium mining would allow the adoption of regulations under which these questions can be answered," Patrick Wales, Virginia Uranium's project manager, said in the statement.