With the study results in, public hearings held, and field trips to the Coles Hill Uranium deposit and to safe and successful mining operations in Canada the Commission, on January 7, voted 11-2 to lift the 31-year old moratorium—subject to approval by the General Assembly. The January 7 hearing included speakers for and against uranium mining in Pittsylvania County—and area formerly known for Tobacco farming. Buddy Mayhew, a retired tobacco farmer and teacher who is al life-long resident of the region where the mining took place was one of the “pro-mining” presenters.
He said: “Those of us who recall more prosperous days in Southside worry about the lack of economic opportunities in the area. As a former school teacher, I know what that means for our schools and our ability to invest in our future. Our region continues to have the highest unemployment rate in the Commonwealth as both manufacturing and tobacco abandoned Southside. This is a condition that we cannot simply accept; we must continue to look for opportunities to change it. That is why the prospect of uranium mining deserves every consideration.
The Coles Hill project would mean good paying jobs for many in my community and new business opportunities for businesses already in the region. In addition, the project would attract companies that would come to support the mine and hire even more of our residents.” (Mayhew spoke on behalf of the People for Economic Prosperity, a grassroots group of more than 1200 farmers and small business owners in southern Virginia who support the mining project.)
State Senator John Watkins has already drafted legislation based on suggestions in a report from the Governor’s Work Study Group that would lift the moratorium. Passage of the legislation is the next step. Because the Commission has moved to lift the moratorium, and the Commission is made up of the legislators who are the key players, the most knowledgeable on energy issues, passage is likely. Watkin’s bill will not allow mining to begin, but it will allow the process of allowing mining to begin.
The appropriate agencies would begin to develop regulations that would, ultimately, open the door for companies to apply for a mining permit. At a time when leadership in government is sadly lacking, Governor McDonnell can set himself apart and secure his legacy as a job creator by signing the bill when it comes to his desk.
Perhaps Virginia can become the Energy Capital of the East Coast after all.