By Peter Galuszka
If you are a resident of Pittsylvania County in Virginia’s Southside, you can be happy to know that some Richmond legislators and a few citizens want to restrict uranium mining exclusively to your county.
Led by Republican State Sen. John Watkins of Powhatan, the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission voted 11-2 to lift a 31-year-old moratorium on uranium mining and set up a state regulatory apparatus to oversee it. This pushes the matter to the General Assembly for further action.
The move was no big surprise but limiting mining to Pittsylvania was. Asked why he pushed this limitation, Watkins told reporters, “Because I want the bill to pass.”
Now if you live down in Chatham near Coles Hill Farm where the 119-million pound uranium deposit is located, you can look at this two ways. Since your local economy is still smacked down by the loss of textile, tobacco and furniture jobs, you can thank Watkins and the Commission for pushing maybe 1,000 new jobs your way. Or, you can damn them for leaving you with any possible ill-effects from uranium mining and milling for the next few decades or centuries.
You see, if you are a resident of Culpeper, Madison, Fauquier or Orange Counties, you need not worry. Lifting the ban only applies down South where the poor people live.
Years ago, Marline Corp., a Canadian-backed outfit similar to Virginia Uranium now seeking the current mining permission, had a survey and took leases on thousands of acres in those counties as well.
There has been plenty of opposition to the Pittsylvania project from local residents, the cities of Norfolk and Virginia beach that get some of the drinking water from nearby lakes and possible, the North Carolina legislature which is considering a resolution opposing mining. Even the Virginia Farm Bureau is against lifting the ban.
But imagine how much worse the publicity farther north would be if you bothered the rich horse people of Fauquier or folks in Culpeper or Orange which are fast becoming outer, outer bedrooms for the Washington area.
The thinking in Richmond seems positively imperial. It’s just like Gov. Robert F. McDonnell pushing toll booths on Interstate 95 not in Northern Virginia or the state capital, but down near Emporia which has lackluster employment rates, income levels and political clout.
What this also means is that the state would have to hire up to 30 new professionals and spend millions developing a brand new state regulatory structure to handle uranium mining and milling. A state study group just researched the matter.
Watkins has been pushing uranium mining since he was first in the General Assembly back in the 1980s and now-defunct Marline was in charge. But not all who really want mining are so open about it. Their strategy seems to be to recognize that the state has no clue how to manage mining, study it to death, recommend setting up a regulatory infrastructure, lift the ban, wait several years and then have Virginia Uranium let ‘er rip.
This assumes, of course, that global uranium prices, which are really determined by Kazakhstan, Canada and Asian electric utilities, are still high enough to make this work.