Virginia House Committee Rejects Uranium Mining Study Sought by Virginia Uranium

Virginia House Committee Rejects Uranium Mining Study Sought by Virginia Uranium

A legislative committee has rejected a privately financed scientific study that environmentalists and some Southside Virginia residents feared would inevitably lead to ending the state’s 25-year moratorium on uranium mining.

The House Rules Committee voted 11-4 Monday to table Sen. Frank Wagner’s bill, which would have created a 17-member commission to oversee a study of whether uranium can be mined safely in Virginia.

The study was sought by Virginia Uranium Inc. and would have been conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. The company, which owns a massive uranium deposit in Pittsylvania estimated to be worth $10 billion, would have paid for the study.

Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, amended the bill to address concerns of critics who viewed it as just the first step in Virginia Uranium’s carefully crafted blueprint to get the moratorium lifted. His revisions included spelling out that no steps toward uranium mining could be taken until expressly approved by the legislature.

Some committee members wanted to substitute Wagner’s bill with one that would appoint a six-member legislative commission to determine what issues related to uranium should be examined. Wagner opposed that approach, which he characterized as “a study of a study.”

“This is the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen,” Wagner told reporters after the committee action. “If you don’t want to study it, just vote no.”

Del. Clarke Hogan, R-Halifax, offered the substitute bill. Many opponents of uranium mining live in Hogan’s district.

Wagner and supporters of his bill emphasized that it merely authorized a study and pledged that they would be the first to oppose lifting the moratorium if the findings showed uranium mining would harm the environment or human health.

Opponents said the legislation was not as benign as its backers suggested.

“I think it’s pretty clear the intent of the company,” said Kay Slaughter of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “They have a very clear corporate strategy and a budget to educate the General Assembly toward lifting the moratorium.”

Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Henry, was not convinced the outcome of the study was preordained. He said he was mystified that critics did not believe the National Academy of Sciences could conduct an impartial study.

House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith of Salem said he was not averse to studying the issue, but he believed Wagner’s bill was moving too fast. He said legislators need better information about what should be included in a study before authorizing one.

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