4th Circuit ruling affirms Virginia uranium mining ban
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a Virginia company's bid to end the state's decades-long ban on uranium mining so it can tap a huge deposit of the radioactive ore.
A divided panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond upheld the ruling of a district judge, who in December 2015 threw out a lawsuit from Virginia Uranium Inc.
The Pittsylvania County company wants to mine a 119-million-pound deposit of uranium beneath the rolling hills of Southside Virginia. The so-called Coles Hill deposit is the largest known deposit in the United States, according to the ruling.
Virginia Uranium argued that the federal Atomic Energy Act, which was enacted in 1946 primarily to promote nuclear power, should pre-empt the state's mining regulations. But the courts disagreed.
"For more than thirty years the General Assembly has maintained a moratorium on the mining of uranium in the Commonwealth for the safety and well-being of our residents, lands, and waterways," Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement. "This ruling affirms that the Commonwealth is well within its rights to regulate mining activities."
Opponents say the mining and the storage of radioactive waste would threaten rivers and streams that feed public water supplies. Full-scale uranium mining has never been conducted on the East Coast, and most of it is done in arid parts of the world.
The company, however, contends the ore can be safely mined and that the operation would bring in revenue and new jobs for the struggling Southside region. It has estimated the value of the Coles Hill deposit at $6 billion.
Neither an attorney for Virginia Uranium nor a company executive immediately responded to telephone calls and emailed requests for comment. The company has also filed a separate lawsuit in a state court. A trial date in that case hasn't been set.
Virginia's ban on uranium mining has been in place since 1982. The company has heavily lobbied lawmakers to lift the ban over the years but suspended its efforts after the election of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who made it clear he supported the moratorium.