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McDonnell: Keep uranium mining moratorium in place

Gov. Bob McDonnell is asking the General Assembly to take no action to permit uranium mining during its 2012 session, calling instead for the continuation of the state’s moratorium on uranium mining pending a comprehensive and on-site study of the issue to be completed by a newly-created multi-agency state workgroup.

The Governor’s directive that the state work group look further into the specific issues surrounding mining at a particular site in the Commonwealth follows a thorough review by the McDonnell administration of the recent National Academy of Sciences report that looked broadly at uranium mining in Virginia.

The report noted, “At present, there are gaps in legal and regulatory coverage for activities involved in uranium mining, processing, reclamation and long-term stewardship. Some of these gaps have resulted from the moratorium on uranium mining that Virginia has in place; others are gaps in current laws or regulations, or in the way that they are applied.”

The governor also consulted with agency heads, legislators, business leaders and others concerning the prudent course of action on this complicated issue.

McDonnell issued the following statement on the issue:

“Over the past month I, along with members of our administration, have analyzed the NAS report on uranium mining in the Commonwealth in great detail. We have spoken with local legislators, agency heads, scientists as well as business and community leaders in and around the potential mining region. To further understand the issue members of our administration, including technical experts, traveled to Coles Hill to view the property personally.  They also traveled to a uranium mining site in Canada to gain a greater understanding of the scientific and legal issues that must be addressed if Virginia were to move forward. Yesterday, I received a letter from a bipartisan group of Virginia legislators from the Uranium Subcommittee of the Coal and Energy Commission of the General Assembly asking that our Administration delay any action on uranium mining until such time that a more thorough and on-site review of the issue could take place. As a result of our analysis, and consideration of the points made in the letter, I believe that such an on-site study must take place before any action is taken. The NAS study was broadly helpful in providing a better understanding of the associated economic benefits, which are potentially significant, as well as the possible risks, which are potentially serious, associated with uranium mining in this geography and climate. However, in order for an informed decision to be made by state lawmakers, we need more detailed information. Before we make any decisions about whether or not to proceed down the path to development, we must be certain that uranium mining can be conducted safely and responsibly. Public safety must be the primary factor in the ultimate determination as to whether to proceed with uranium mining.

“To attain that information, I have today sent a letter to my Secretaries of Natural Resources, Commerce and Trade and Health and Human Resources asking them to create a working group, comprised of the appropriate technical staff from the Departments of Health, Environmental Quality, and Mines, Minerals and Energy, which will develop a draft regulatory framework for presentation to the Coal and Energy Commission next year. My letter sets out more than a dozen issues that need to be addressed by the working group. Further, I have directed the group to report their progress to the legislative Uranium Subcommittee no fewer than three times over the next year, and to allow thorough opportunity for public participation in its work.

“I have been clear that we must base all decisions on this matter on public safety and science. While uranium mining could mean the creation of high-paying jobs for our citizens, a boost for the important nuclear power industry, increased economic development for the region, and the generation of significant tax revenue for the entire Commonwealth, we must prudently study this issue to ensure that such mining would not impair the health of our people, or the condition of our environment. The NAS study, while broadly helpful, left many questions still unanswered. Some of those questions can only be answered through an on-site evaluation of Coles Hill and the surrounding area. I look forward to receiving the draft statutory proposal and regulatory framework from this working group. This analysis will arm the Commonwealth’s policy makers with more information and data so that they can soundly determine the proper course of action moving forward.”

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