In piece published in the Richmond Times Dispatch on Monday, Virginia Senator John C. Watkins made a number of arguments in favor of lifting the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia while countering some of the arguments made by Virginians opposed to mining uranium in the state.
Essentially, Sen. Watkins attempts to make the stately, seasoned politician, argument that goes something like this: I’ve been in the Virginia General Assembly for 30 years now. During that time I’ve been a devoted public servant looking out for interests of Virginians. And now I wish to legislate in the public interest again by lifting the ban on uranium mining, or at least taking the first step towards mining for uranium in Virginia.
I don’t doubt that Sen. Watkins has the public interest mostly at heart. If you ever get the opportunity to speak with Sen. Watkins, you’ll realize that he is a down-to-earth heck of a nice guy. But he’s deluding himself insofar as he thinks uranium mining can be done safely in Virginia.
We simply DO NOT KNOW whether or not uranium mining can be conducted safely in Virginia’s wet climate. There are no other comparable test cases anywhere in the world that Virginians can use as an example of how dangerous uranium mining may or may not be. To suggest otherwise is either a bold-faced lie or a form of self-deception.
But Sen. Watkins also points to the “unprecedented step of requiring the mining company to pay for 100 percent of the regulatory and permitting costs associated with uranium mining activity.” Yes, how groundbreaking a step it is to make a mining company(s) completely pay for a business venture that could reap windfall profits. What’s next, actually making the mining company pay for the inevitable environmental damage they leave behind?
Speaking of which, if an environmental disaster does occur, who exactly is responsible/billable for the cleanup?!
Sen. Watkins, your “bold legislative move” is simply a tacit acknowledge of how controversial this issue is, especially considering that politicians from outside of Southside Virginia, where this current mining project will take place, have their special interest tainted hands in the cookie jar of what is ultimately a local political issue. Should Southside Virginians be able to decide if Northern Virginia builds a high-speed rail line? No, because it’s an issue pertaining exclusively to Northern Virginians.
But with so much money and political power on the line, it was almost inevitable that non-Southsiders would stick their political hat into the ring.
And as is so often the case when so much money and power is on the line, a simple issue gets obscured and transformed into a complex web of half-truths, quasi-facts, outright lies, and misinformed legislators.
Make all the provisions, make all of the caveats that you will, but until the residents of Southside Virginia give uranium mining a green light, all other arguments and considerations should be left to the side. It is their future, their community, their choice.