Bob McDonnell’s Uranium Two-Step

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    Bob McDonnell just proved once again how much smarter of a politician he is than Ken Cuccinelli.  While Cuccy is like the gung-ho Marine who’s always the first to rush into battle — and hence the first to get shot — Gov. Bob actually thinks and aims before pulling the trigger.

    Today’s case in point: uranium mining, about which the governor decided not to lift Virginia’s current ban this year.  Instead, he’s directing state agencies to develop a “regulatory roadmap” and creating a workgroup to study the site in Pittsylvania County where Virginia Uranium is seeking to dig up the radioactive stuff.  

    It’s a clever move, essentially a strategic retreat to allow the corporate-owned party to regroup and plan out how to give the uranium lobby most of what it wants a little further down the road.  And it managed to stir the pot enough that Virginia Uranium supported the delay while the Virginia League of Conservation Voters criticized the governor for preempting legislative debate.  

    I personally find it very telling that even in a state where Republicans control the governor’s office and most of the legislature — and were flooded with uranium lobby money, including free trips to France — overturning this ban turned out to be a very tough sell.  The environmental coalition that has made uranium a serious issue in Virginia deserves to take a bow.  In my opinion, we just won Round One, and now we’ve bought more time to organize and prepare to win Round Two.

    That said, McDonnell’s end game, clearly, is to make uranium mining a reality in the Commonwealth, just a little further down the line. So we need to keep pushing the right buttons and reminding people why this would be a very bad idea — and how many better ideas there are to improve the state energy (and economic development) picture, starting with efficiency and continuing to renewables.  We need to focus on the agencies tasked to look at this issue and insist on full transparency and public participation. And we need to demand representation on the key workgroups by environmentalists, responsible academics and other non-industry-hacks.  

    Politically speaking, McDonnell’s move reminds me a bit of President Obama’s maneuvers on the Keystone XL pipeline — another postponement forced by environmentalists and a political leader smart enough to note the power of their arguments over public opinion.  The main difference being that McDonnell did a lot more to assuage the energy lobbyists over the longer term.  Regardless, in both cases the fight is far from over.

    His fancy footwork on this issue shows why Gov. Bob’s name is bandied around as a potential VP candidate — while Cuccinelli isolates himself as an extremist wacko, harassing academics based on climate change conspiracy theories and making up weird stories about Washington, DC dumping rodents on our state.  While Cuccy plays to the shrinking Tea Party base, McDonnell goes for the gold — by pushing uranium out of the spotlight for a while.