Many Voters, Few Candidates At Keep the Ban Meeting

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    (Thanks to Aimee for attending this meeting & writing it up! We’re always looking for posts like this from every corner of the state (& everywhere between). – promoted by TheGreenMiles)

    The Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, and Virginia Conservation Network are partnering to put together Keep the Ban presentations and meetings throughout the state, educating the public about the dangers of uranium mining to health and the environment as well as teaching how Virginia Uranium plans to get approval for mining through an “insider game.” The group held a meeting in Richmond last week, one tonight in Charlottesville, and will be holding additional meetings in Virginia Beach, Arlington, Roanoke, and Harrisonburg (more info here). This meeting was well attended by voters, with a packed room at City Space on Charlottesville's downtown mall, but sadly had few electeds or candidates showed.

     So what exactly did the meeting cover? It started with the background of the uranium industry in Virginia starting in the late 1970s, in which Virginia placed a ban on uranium mining for health and safety reasons, as well as downstream impacts and the price of uranium. The presentation continued through the present industry effort to lift the ban (including, as you might expect, many industry-funded studies about the effects of uranium mining). 

    More on the meeting, including information on and reaction to the uranium-funded trip to France many legislators are taking, after the jump.

     So what exactly are the problems with the Coles Hill site? Residents certainly seem to expect one, asking for preliminary water testing.That site alone is expected to generate 28 million tons of waste that would be stored in Virginia indefinitely. Speakers at the meeting also cited studies linking exposure to uranium and uranium waste to everything from reproductive risks to lung cancer to leukemia to internal organ damage. When asked through a Virginia Beach Public Utilities Request for specific data concerning storage at the site, Walter Coles wrote, “most of that data…is not expected in the near term.” Add to this an industry track record of radium contamination and spills of waste, and you have a recipe for disaster. 

    The meeting further highlighted administrative problems in Virginia that could lead to problems if uranium mining moves forward, particularly that Virginia currently spends less than 1% of its budget on environmental programs, regulation, and cleanup. Virginia's agencies currently lack experience and resources to deal with big problems that uranium mining would present. Virginia's wet weather presents another issue: uranium mining is typically done in dry and sparsely populated areas, and severe weather events can easily affect uranium operations.

    One of the slides shown was titled “wealth for a few and waste for the rest of us.” That about seems to sum it up–uranium would be shipped out of state, enriched, and sold on the international market, not helping to counter the insecurity caused by oil. Its unstable price leads to economic insecurity and insufficient legal accountability could leave taxpayers responsible. 

    One of the more contentious parts of the meeting was when the “insider game” on the part of the industry in Richmond. The speakers as well as commenters slammed the members of the General Assembly who would be attending the much-discussed trip to France. There was discussion as well about the fact that typically on these trips, legislators are only shown the industry side of things (imagine that!) and have little chance to actually talk with people about their feelings about mining in their area or the affects it has had on their lives. Organizers noted that Virginia Uranium is “playing an insiders game to pass legislation in Jan 2012,” and gave the numbers in Richmond so far NOT including that trip: $267,000 so far on 15 lobbyists, $27,418 for three other first-class trips to France, and $55,150 in campaign contributions.

    There is obviously a huge amount of concern about this, given that some of the legislators going on the upcoming trip include environmental advocates including David Englin. Tonight, Virginians expressed how upset they were at legislators for going on a trip that Walter Coles described to his shareholders as one that would enable delegates and state senators “to be supportive of what we're trying to do in the next session.” It is extremely forward that we present a unified opposition rather than mixed messages against uranium mining moving forward. 

    Groups listed as supporting keeping the ban include, among others, the Dan River Basin Association, Friends of the Earth, L.I.F.E., Inc., Roanoke River Basin Association, Piedmont Environmental Council, Sierra Club–VA Chapter, Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, Southern Environmental Law Center, Virginia Bass Federation, Virginia Conservation Network, and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. To add your name to the petition, or get yourself or your group involved, you can visit http://keeptheban.org/.

    • Peter Rousselot

      Thanks for providing this very informative update on a critical issue facing our state. The information provided at this meeting, which you have helpfully highlighted, is yet another illustration why it wasn’t necessary for our legislators to take a $10,000 trip to France in order to inform themselves about this issue. Kudos to the substantial majority of their colleagues who wisely turned down this “opportunity”.