mcauliffeBy Peter Galuszka

Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe has made one of his first pronouncements and it is an important one: he will veto any law the General Assembly passes to lift the decades-long ban on mining uranium in Virginia.

The bigger question is whether he was start disassembling the energy-industrial complex that outgoing Gov. Robert F. McDonnell had put together that tended to serve such large-scale energy firms and utilities beholden to fossil fuels and nuclear power.

One unsavory part of McDonnell’s plan to make Virginia “The Energy Capital of the East Coast” was that he packed his study commissions with lobbyists and Big Energy types (no environmentalists or independent citizens’ groups need apply) and then shielded them from the state Freedom of Information Act. When he held energy fairs, they typically were dominated by oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power representatives with only a token showing from wind, solar or other renewables.

McAuliffe’s stance is not unexpected but he did seem to wobble a bit about nuclear power in the campaign. Curiously, when Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling started his personal revolution about a year ago, knowing he was being shown the door by the tea party hardliners within the state GOP, he dramatically came out against ending the uranium moratorium.

About that time, a McDonnell study commission headed by Cathie J. France was finishing its work just before the moratorium issue was to come up before the General Assembly. Plans were afoot to develop state mining and milling regulations.

What then happened? When it looked like the moratorium bill was dead, it was quickly withdrawn. Now McAuliffe says there’s no need for state uranium regs because they won’t be needed if the moratorium stays.  As for Ms. France, she’s off at Williams Mullen, the lobbying firm, of course, but says she won’t handle uranium.

A few weeks ago, state environmentalists were afraid that Attorney General and failed gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Cuccinelli was setting things up for Big Nukes by expressing in an opinion requested by Del. Donald Merrick of Chatham that localities could not have the power to set up laws banning uranium mining if it came to that because the the Dillon rule that has it that localities have only the power that the General Assembly lets them have.

I’m not a lawyer, but I have to say that Cuccinelli’s giving the straight stuff on the Dillon Rule, which should be dumped because it has screwed up so many things in Virginia that localities can do better than the state.

Cuccinelli’s opinion seems moot anyway if the mining ban stays. But there’s a much bigger reason why the issue is going nowhere. Global uranium prices are trading at roughly $35 a pound. When the Coles Hill Farm project was proposed back in 2007 or so, prices were at least four times as high.

The spike collapsed thanks to the global recession and the Fukushima disaster in 2011. While nuclear stations are being planned in Asia, they are getting nowhere in this country because they would need huge federal loan supports from Congress. Utilities are less likely to push for them if they can use cheaper and plentiful natural gas which results in large part from fracking.

I realize that fracking has its own dangers but one can’t deny how the energy mix works. If one reads the typically clueless Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial page, they would assume that McAuliffe won’t give on uranium because of the oodles of campaign dough he got from the green movement and from people Tidewater cities fearful that mining uranium in Pittsylvania will contaminate their water supplies.

These are real concerns, but the kicker and killer is the global price of uranium ore.

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5 responses to “Why McAuliffe Is Saying No to Uranium Mining”

  1. DJRippert Avatar

    “I’m not a lawyer, but I have to say that Cuccinelli’s giving the straight stuff on the Dillon Rule, which should be dumped because it has screwed up so many things in Virginia that localities can do better than the state.”.

    What? It’s not my right as a citizen of Fairfax County to instruct my elected representatives to imperil the lives and property of those living around the uranium?

    It’s almost too bad that Cuccinelli lost. Almost. If he would have won the uranium issue might have caused the average Virginian to see the absolute stupidity of our state’s love affair with Dillon’s Rule.

    Can you imagine forcing people in a locality to deal with uranium mining if they don’t think the economic benefits outweigh the risks? Can you imagine people from Fairfax, Charlottesville and Henrico forcing them to allow uranium mining?

  2. Breckinridge Avatar

    All the uranium will be out of the ground and in use long before Dillon’s Rule disappears in Virginia. The General Assembly is sovereign, creates and can un-create local governments. The vested interests in maintaining Dillon’s Rule far exceed any petty concerns over mining. Those vested interests include many, many local elected officials whose tears about the issue are of the crocodile variety — deep down they are glad they can fend off whacky ideas by saying — “Gee, I’d love to, but.”

    You think homeowner’s associations are a menace to freedom? Imagine the Charlottesville City Council or the People’s Republic of Arlington set loose to practice social engineering.

    As to mining, I would not expect the General Assembly to override local zoning or the ability of a locality to grant or deny a special use permit. Lifting the moratorium is just one hurdle to the proposed mine, and frankly the NRC permit isn’t going to be that hard (because the job can be done safely.) I’m fine with the mine, but also fine with the locality refusing to allow the mine. I don’t think mining is an allowed use of land by right, but I’m not a lawyer.

    I suspect McAuliffe just wanted to lance that boil, get that issue to the back burner where it belongs, to move onto other stuff. I also suspect there was no plan, no strategy, and he just answered a question when asked.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “Imagine the Charlottesville City Council or the People’s Republic of Arlington set loose to practice social engineering.”.

      Solution: Move to Albemarle County or Fairfax County.

      Local governments have to compete for citizens, employers, etc. When they do stupid things long enough they fail. Ask the City Council in Detroit. Then, drive out to the suburbs of Detroit and see a whole different world from the city.

      Dillon’s Rule will be significantly diluted in Virginia within 25 years. It will be the conservatives who push for the dilution. Look at a locality map of Virginia with voting patterns color coded. There is a lot of bright red and a lot of bright blue. Not much purple – although the state overall is purple. As the state government becomes more and more liberal the red localities will cry for more and more autonomy. Meanwhile, the liberal Democratic Party has never really been Dillon Rule proponents. Ironically, it has been phony baloney, supposed small government Republicans like Ken Cuccinelli who have always demanded complete centralized control by Richmond. Isn’t it odd that the same goofballs who rail against federal over-reach are the first in line to demand centralized state over-reach. After all, the more you centralize the money in a state the more there is to steal.

  3. I still think mining ANYTHING where toxic tailings are then brought to the surface in an area that gives 40 inches of rain a year is no smart.

    you can mine uranium or for that matter open pit coal, in an arid area and not have the runoff issues.

    I’m glad Breckinridge thinks it can be done safely…because
    American Cyanamid Company believed the same thing about titanium in Nelson county…..and now taxpayers are responsible:

    you just cannot mine toxic material where waste tailings are left on the surface in a region with 40 inches of annual rainfall and not have runoff issues. This is not a theory – we know this from experience.

    there are too many places in the world where uranium can be mined without risking the surface and ground water… why do this unless/until – you have little other choice?

    this is the kind of thing – that taxpayers end up owning… after the company has got out of it what it wants… they walk.. and we end up with superfund sites.

  4. Exactly what is your concern with uranium mining? Cleanest and most efficient energy source available. Not a single person has been killed as a result of uranium mining. There have actually been more deaths with solar energy.

    It’s always a head scratcher how you’ll have environmental protesters who now nothing about that which it is they are protesting. Most people will tell you that it is smoke that comes out of the cooling towers, not water vapor.

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