The state panel that Governor McDonnell appointed to study uranium mining has released its report. The Uranium Working Group didn't say whether Virginia should allow uranium mining or continue the state's 30-year moratorium, but the report could set the stage for a decision in the General Assembly early next year.
Governor McDonnell asked the panel to consider how the state would regulate uranium mining, how it would protect the environment and Virginians health and safety if lawmakers allow Virginia Uranium to move forward with plans to develop the Coles Hill property in Pittsylvania County. The study addresses that in general terms, and offers estimates of additional manpower and funding state agencies would need to do the job.
In a news release Friday afternoon, Virginia Uranium said the report leaves no doubt that the state can regulate uranium mining safely and effectively. The company hopes the report will reassure lawmakers when they consider the issue next year.
"We sincerely believe our elected representatives are equipped with the information and assurances they will need to lift Virginia's moratorium on uranium mining by allowing our state's regulatory agencies to adopt an appropriate regulatory program," said Virginia Uranium Project Manager Patrick Wales.
Opponents disagree with that assessment, noting that the panel made no recommendation. Representatives of the Keep the Ban Coalition say they continue to rely on the National Academy of Sciences study that identified significant risk.
"The issues addressed by the Uranium Working Group report -- what a regulatory program might look like if the ban were lifted -- is a hypothetical discussion," the group wrote in a news release. "We haven't answered the question of whether to lift the ban."
Governor McDonnell says he will study the report and meet with stakeholders on both sides before deciding whether to make a recommendation to the General Assembly. McDonnell said he has not formed an opinion in advance of the study.
"As I have previously noted," the Governor said in a news release, "the overriding consideration is whether uranium mining and milling can be conducted with a high degree of public safety, and whether suitable assurances can be given that air, water, health , and well-being of the citizens will be protected."
Bob McDonnell has received the final report from the Uranium Working Group.
The report is a "conceptual regulatory framework" if the General Assembly decides to lift the moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia.
McDonnell has sent the report to the General Assembly, which requested the report last year. Click here to see the entire report.
Here is the news release and official statement about the report from Governor McDonnell's office:
Governor Bob McDonnell has received and transmitted to the General Assembly the final report of the Uranium Working Group regarding a conceptual regulatory framework should the General Assembly act to lift the current moratorium on uranium mining in the Commonwealth. The Working Group was not asked to make a recommendation on the overall question of the feasibility of uranium mining in the Commonwealth. The report was requested by the General Assembly a year ago. The Governor will now review the report in the weeks ahead. The report is available HERE. In addition, the Governor has issued the following statement upon receipt of the report.
“Almost a year ago, the National Academy of Sciences issued a long awaited report on uranium mining. While the NAS report provided much useful information, it offered very little specific to the issues in Virginia, and left many questions unanswered. For that reason, members of the General Assembly asked me to task the appropriate Executive Branch agencies with providing substantial, additional information and to determine what a comprehensive regulatory program for safe uranium mining might look like, should the current moratorium be lifted by the General Assembly in the years ahead.
In response, I promptly directed establishment of a Uranium Working Group from the subject matter experts in the departments of Mines Minerals and Energy, Health, and Environmental Quality. This Working Group was tasked with providing a detailed scientific policy analysis that would inform the General Assembly what a regulatory framework for uranium mining might look like if they decide to lift the moratorium. We identified 18 specific questions for the Working Group to address and authorized it to hire appropriate technical experts as needed to assist in their work.
For the past 10 months, the geologists, hydrologists, biologists, health scientists, attorneys, and other regulatory experts at DMME, VDH and DEQ – together with experts from around the country pursuant to two contracts for expert assistance entered into by the Working Group retained after a competitive bidding process – have examined the issues put before them. They have reviewed previous reports and scientific literature, visited the Coles Hill site, met with federal and state regulators and regulators from other states and countries, and met together numerous times to discuss their findings and determine what more they needed to know. In addition, as they completed their review of specific topics, the Working Group held six public meetings, in different parts of the Commonwealth, to share the information they had, respond to public questions, and hear public comment. Significant input was also received and reviewed through the Working Group’s web site (http://www.uwg.vi.virginia.gov), which now offers a tremendous volume of related materials, including reports from the experts hired to assist in their analysis, a bibliography of other materials reviewed, and the comments, questions and responses received from the public during their work.
As requested by the General Assembly and our office, the Working Group developed a conceptual regulatory framework that identifies the statutory and regulatory measures that would be necessary if a legislative decision is made to lift the moratorium. One element of their work – the examination of potential socioeconomic impacts – has been delayed by the difficulty in finding a suitable, objective expert to undertake the necessary survey work that has not already been employed to do work by stakeholders on one side of the issue or the other. As a consequence, and because the Group was unwilling to limit the original scope of this portion of their work, an addendum to the Group’s final report will be provided when the contractor’s work is complete, hopefully in mid-January.
The Working Group was not asked for, and has not provided, an ultimate policy recommendation on whether or not the moratorium on uranium mining in the Commonwealth should be lifted. If the General Assembly decides to lift the moratorium, it will be necessary to amend and adopt statutes and authorize the subsequent development of actual regulations pursuant to the Virginia Administrative Process Act. Only after regulations are developed, proposed, adopted and approved after a lengthy public process could an application for a permit to mine uranium in Virginia be developed and submitted for consideration.
Today the Working Group has delivered its final report to our office pursuant to its deadline of December 1, 2012. At the same time, we are delivering the report to the members of the General Assembly and made available to the public. It will also be posted to the Working Group’s web site. I look forward to reviewing the full report, meeting with our agency experts to discuss their work, and hearing the views of the experts on the Coal and Energy Commission’s Uranium Subcommittee in the coming weeks. I understand that this issue is critically important to many Virginians, and that it raises appropriate concern among many in the vicinity of Coles Hill and beyond. I believe it is crucially important that all voices be heard in the decision-making process ahead. For that reason, in addition to meeting with my staff in the coming weeks, I will meet with stakeholders on both sides of the issue, and will review the public input received to date, before deciding whether or not I will make any recommendation on uranium mining in the Commonwealth. I have formed no prior opinion on whether mining should be permitted, as I have awaited, like most should, the publication of this report. As I have previously noted, the overriding consideration is whether uranium mining and milling can be conducted with a high degree of public safety, and whether suitable assurances can be given that the air, water, health, and well-being of the citizens will be protected.
Finally, I want to commend the great efforts of the Working Group. The agency staff who participated in this important work did so with a high level of professionalism, openness and evenhandedness. They have completed their task with great diligence and thoroughness and met their deadline. As I begin to evaluate the report, I thank them for their tremendous work and I am confident it will help me, the General Assembly, and the public reach an appropriate decision on this matter.”