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McDonnell: Mining is off the table for now

Monday, February 18, 2013

From Bulletin and AP reports

A proposal to lift a moratorium on uranium mining will not be reconsidered during this session of the General Assembly.

“It is gone this year,” and apparently, Gov. Bob McDonnell will not resurrect it any time soon, said Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County, after a meeting with the governor Friday. “The only thing that could happen is if the governor were to amend another bill or issue an executive order, which he assured us he wasn’t going to do.”

McDonnell has said he has not formed a position on mining and may not take one. He also didn’t reveal anything Friday, Merricks said.

“He’s got a good poker face. He doesn’t show his hand,” he said of McDonnell, a fellow Republican.

McDonnell is concentrating on transportation and education issues, said Merricks, who was among Southside legislators to meet with him about the issue of uranium mining on Friday.

The uranium mining issue and whether to lift the decades-old ban on it in Virginia is “really not high on the radar for him right now,” Merricks added.

Sens. Frank M. Ruff Jr. and Bill Stanley and Dels. James E. Edmunds, Danny Marshall III and Thomas C. Wright Jr. also attended the meeting with the governor, the Associated Press reported.

The Southside lawmakers asked to meet with McDonnell to get a read on where he stands after proposals to end the prohibition on uranium mining went nowhere in the General Assembly this session.

The leading mining advocate in the Legislature, Sen. John Watkins, had asked McDonnell to direct the Virginia Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Quality and other state agencies to draw up regulations for uranium mining that would possibly go before the 2014 session.

Legislators opposed that in a letter to McDonnell, and they reiterated their opposition Friday, Merricks said.

The governor assured legislators that “he wasn't planning to do anything right now” on Watkins’ request on uranium mining, said Merricks.

He described the meeting as “cordial,” and said that McDonnell “appreciated us coming in and representing our areas.”

Merricks noted that a Senate bill which came to the House for consideration during crossover proposes creating a nuclear energy consortium agency.

The bill alarms some people who believe it is somehow tied to uranium mining, “but this bill has absolutely nothing to do with uranium mining. I want to assure everybody I did my homework” before the bill came for a vote, Merricks said.

In Richmond, that means “making sure you read everything to make sure it says what you think it says,” he said.

Merricks said he supports the bill to form a new consortium because “we already have nuclear energy in Virginia pretty strong” in areas such as Lynchburg and Hampton Roads.

“It’s here, and this consortium will put together the brightest minds to deal with it, but it has absolutely nothing to do with uranium mining,” Merricks said. “I hope people will rest assured it has nothing to do with mining.”

Virginia Uranium Inc. has pushed the issue of lifting the ban in hopes it can mine a 119-million-pound deposit outside of Chatham, which is about 20 miles from the North Carolina state line. The company maintains the mining and milling of the ore can be done safely using the latest industry standards and generate hundreds of jobs for the economically struggling region.

Opponents argue the job creation is not worth the environmental risks.


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