Watkins withdraws uranium bill, issues a broadside

Rather than watch the Senate’s Agriculture committee unceremoniously kill his bill to lift the moratorium on uranium mining, Sen. John Watkins pulled the bill from consideration and has issued what has to be one of the more interesting, and lengthy, statements for why he did so. Among other reasons for the bill’s demise, Watkins makes note of the fears surrounding mining:

The emotion and fear that some have inspired on this subject have, for now at least, overcome the science and the engineering that we have worked so hard in Virginia to elevate in our educational systems and in our research facilities. It also undermines the consensus for private-sector investment that we have promoted across Virginia in defense, power generation, and nuclear medicine. Indeed, the failure to lift this ban is a definite stigma and blot on our reputation as a pro-business, pro-energy, pro-property rights state. It says to the business community here and around the country that Virginia may not be as open for business as we claim it is.

That’s not to say the issue is settled:

I am striking the bills today, then, in deference to the momentary political realities, but also in deference to those who say they want answers to the unanswered questions. I hope the Governor will direct his agencies to proceed under the APA to answer these questions via duly adopted regulations. And if he feels he lacks authority to do so, he certainly has the means to put that issue expeditiously before this Legislature.

To do anything less than proceed with regulations is to bury our heads in the sand along with the Nation’s most valuable uranium deposit.

Our founding fathers did not let fear override their actions when they fought for their future – for the freedoms and way of life we enjoy today. I – for one – refuse to live with fear. I will not ignore the future, and I will not ignore this issue.

There will never be enough evidence of any kind or in any form able to allay the fears, both real and imagined, of those who oppose mining. They want iron-clad guarantees of safety — which can never be made. And even if they could, other fears, concerns and qualms would arise.

It will be very interesting to see whether this bill comes up in the next session, or whether the McDonnell administration will decide to decide on the points Watkins raises. So far, the Governor’s office has been a model of indecision on uranium mining. The administration’s past performance offers little indication that it will suddenly burst to life and begin the work Watkins suggests. Far safer to run out the clock and leave that task to the next office occupant.

Though neither Terry McAuliffe nor Ken Cuccinelli has given any indication that he will handle the issue differently.

  • Dan Elam

    Norman, your comment “they want ironclad guarantees of safety – which can never be made” isn’t exactly true. Moreover, it doesn’t reflect the overwhelming sentiment of most opposed to uranium mining in Virginia. There is one iron-clad way to be safe: don’t mine the Coles Hill deposit. Even if there isn’t an actual radiation release (and the National Academy of Sciences report concluded that some radioactive tailings release was certain to happen, albeit in lower levels), the stigma alone is enough to keep jobs and tourists away from not only the surrounding area, but for an area ranging all the way to Virginia Beach and North Carolina’s popular Outer Banks where the waters flow. If you have a choice to locate a business or take a vacation, is your first choice really going to be where you are at a higher risk? The family behind the mine has been involved in politics for over 200 years. Clearly they are well connected. And with the current family being accomplished investment bankers, they have great financial skills and they attempt to mine the $7B deposit. They represent a very few who will make an enormous profit while the other Virginians have to deal with their problems, stigma, loss of jobs, and potential loss of health. The opponents are not left-leaning tree huggers – the majority are actually business owners with pro-development and even pro-mining backgrounds. Some, like myself, are very pro-nuclear. Every single municipal group for hundreds of miles is opposed. Doctors, business owners, farmers, and others are opposed.

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