Thursday, January 21, 2010

Verga Supports Uranium Mining

Over at the Republican blog Bearing Drift, Laurence Verga has come out in favor of repealing Virginia's "irrational, unconditional" ban on uranium mining in the state. He says mining at Coles Hill in Chatham would create jobs.

Pittsylvania County has the largest deposit of undeveloped uranium in the country, grabbing editorial attention from such heavy hitters as the Wall Street Journal. If uranium mining in the region is found to be environmentally safe, we must mine there if we are serious about energy independence and economic development in a region with an unemployment rate far above the national figure.

The National Research Council is finally set to begin an environmental impact study, which is expected to take 18 months. In the meantime the General Assembly should repeal its irrational, unconditional ban on uranium mining and replace it with code that awards immediate approval upon projects that successfully complete an environmental impact study. (My emphasis)

My first instinct is to say Verga's sealed his fate in this end of the district--he has walked into a massively controversial issue and put up his flag on the side of the mining company. It's true he left some wiggle room when he appealed to environmental safety, but my suspicion is that mainstream Pittsylvania voters won't buy it. The Chatham area seems at best evenly split on uranium, and the anti-mine crowd may have a slight lead in public opinion.

I've posted before about why I think it's very unlikely that mining can be done safely, and why it wouldn't necessarily be good for Chatham even if safety were not a concern--in the post, Verga says the mine could generate $8-10 billion of economic development cash "in an area that so desperately needs good-paying jobs." Well, there's the rub: who gets that cash? How much will the miners be paid? Generally speaking, mining towns aren't exactly hubs of commerce--one look at Appalachia can demonstrate that. Once the mine is empty, the miners lose their jobs and the towns are right back where they started--most of the profit goes to the mining company and their shareholders.

But for me, the biggest concern regarding uranium mining is Mr. Verga's deregulate-everything economic ideology. There are smart people out there who say uranium mining can be done safely with the proper oversight. Okay, for the sake of argument, let's assume they're right. How much regulation and oversight will Mr. Verga tolerate? Some estimates say there is forty years' worth of uranium beneath Coles Hill. In that time, how many Laurence Vergas will come along and decide that such regulation is simply an unnecessary burden on the free market, and that it would be best to get out of VUI's hair? With that $8-10 billion in revenue, how many politicians will VUI attempt to influence?

We can't leave something as delicate as a uranium mine vulnerable to the political winds--perhaps after the environmental safety study is done, we can conduct a study on political safety.

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