Momentum Building in Virginia

As you all know, last week Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) sent the final Uranium Working Group (UWG) report, including its draft regulatory framework for uranium mining, to the General Assembly. This week, state Sen. John Watkins (R) announced plans to file legislation that would “lift the moratorium” on uranium mining and direct Virginia agencies to develop the regulatory framework drafted by the UWG.

The reaction to the report by most of the haters was surprisingly tame. Instead of the usual apocalyptic spew there was whining (or whimpering). Articles in Virginia newspapers were filled with comments that the report was either “too technical” or “didn’t answer questions” about whether uranium can be “mined safely.”

Then there’s the gem from Gene Addesso, acting president of the Roanoke River Basin Association. Addesso told The South Boston News & Record that “he was ‘quite disappointed’ by what he said was the report’s ‘not very informative’ discussion of the potential environmental and health impacts of mining.

Helloooooooooo? Are we reading the same document? That wasn’t the goal for the UWG or the final report, which I have to say is one hell of a comprehensive, objective and yes, informative document that fulfills Gov. McDonnell’s charter.

I couldn’t help but compare it to the POS National Academy of Sciences report which, at the end of the day, was so convoluted  that no thinking person could make heads or tails of it – except the antis who deemed it  “proof” that uranium mining is evil. According to the chairman of the panel that wrote it, that was not the intent of the badly written, badly organized NAS report that badly needed professional editing.

But the reaction from Southside Republicans, who to a man oppose Coles Hill, was far more entertaining and ridicule worthy.

First, there’s Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania. He told the Danville Register & Bee that the report laid out regulatory structure, but left other questions unanswered.

“You can draw up regulations. That’s really not the question. It didn’t answer the what-ifs …. I can deal with the mining. I think we can regulate that.” But the storage of uranium mill tailings “gives him heartburn.”

Do you think Don knows that all mining – ALL MINING – results in tailings? And that coal mining tails often include radioactive materials because they are naturally occurring throughout the earth? I’m guessing that once the Coles Hills fight is over, Don will turn his attentions to the storage of tailings from coal operations, what with the heartburn and all. I bet his fellow Republican lawmakers in Southwest Virginia will love that.

Then there’s Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, who talked to the paper about Watkins’ plan to introduce legislation.

“It doesn’t have to be the way he’s doing it. I think it’s backwards, myself. I think there should first be a vote to lift the moratorium ….What could happen is that you have a bill drawn saying we will vote on lifting the moratorium and if the moratorium is lifted, regulations will be drawn.

I guess Danny doesn’t realize that there’s no moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia! That’s right. No ban. No official prohibition. The words moratorium or ban are not even in that section of the Code of Virginia. What legislation would Danny write to remove something that isn’t actually there?

Instead, the 53 words that make up current commonwealth law say that no uranium mining permit applications can be accepted by any regulatory agency, before July 1, 1984, and until a regulatory framework is set up. (Note to Danny: that is what lifts the so-called ban.)

At the time, after the only company interested in mining uranium decided not to move forward on its project, lawmakers turned their focus to other business, leaving the necessary legislative authorization to the agencies to create the framework on the table—where it’s gathered dust these past 30 years.

So let me get this straight. There are actual Republican politicians who don’t like (some kinds of) mining. They represent the people of Virginia, where the mining industry generated nearly $10 billion in output in 2010, according to the National Mining Association.

These same anti-mining Republicans are either lying to their constituents about what the upcoming General Assembly vote will entail, or they have no idea what they are talking about. And they sure as hell aren’t job creators.

Meanwhile, the liberal leaning Washington Post published an editorial that supported moving ahead with uranium mining in Virginia. Think about that.

You can always tell momentum is on your side when your adversaries start throwing their empty guns at you and your friends emerge from the most unexpected places. We just might pull off this uranium mining thing after all.