Friday, August 23, 2013

The end of the mining debate?


Local candidates for the House of Delegates might stand united in their support of Virginia’s current uranium ban, but they differ greatly on whether or not it should — or rather, can — be made permanent.
  The debate started with a recent press release issued by Elizabeth Jones, the Democratic nominee for 16th District delegate.

In the release, Jones stated that if elected, she would propose legislation that would “end the uranium mining debate once and for all by making uranium and performing uranium mine explorations illegal in Virginia.”
  On top of cementing the ban, Jones said she would also call for a full investigation of Virginia Uranium Inc. to assess any damage already done to the Southside area through uranium exploration.

Jones also said she would call for an investigation into any connections between Virginia Uranium Inc. and Virginia politicians.

According to Jones, the investigation would ensure “total transparency” regarding elected officials who receive money from the mining company.

“ The longer we allow this debate to continue and allow for foreign corporations to fund and finance ‘studies’ and ‘lobbying’ in Virginia,” she said in the statement, “the harder it will be to get them to leave Virginia and let us grow our economy our way, without polluting and destroying our own backyards.”

Dr. Gary Miller, the 14th District Democratic candidate, said he would fully support Jones’ proposed legislation, even to the point of signing on as a co-patron.

“ I would support that, rather than the issue just comes back every year,” he said.
Miller said he supports a permanent ban because he just doesn’t think uranium mining can ever be done safely — now or in the future.

“ I don’t think there’s any way, shape or form it can be made safe,” he explained. “I don’t think they can come up with a failsafe set of regulations.”

“ I would think [it’s possible] to make it a law,” he said. “I don’t know why not. We’ve banned it for years, why not make it a permanent ban?”

But Republican candidate for 16th District delegate, Les Adams, said there’s no legal way to ban uranium mining permanently through a bill alone, although Adams remains committed to the current ban.

“ I don’t see how that can be done, because the law does not allow legislation to bind future General Assemblies,” he said. “That’s why we have elections.”

Delegate Danny Marshall, R-14th District, agreed, saying Jones’ proposed legislation “wouldn’t even make it out of a committee.”

“ I heard what she said, and there’s just one problem with that — she can’t do it,” he said. “No law can tell the next General Assembly what to do.”

Marshall said the only way the uranium mining ban could be made permanent is through an amendment to the Virginia Constitution.

An amendment could also be made during a constitutional convention — a rare event that can only be held following a two-thirds majority vote by both the House of Delegates and state Senate.

Outside this process, a bill can’t actually be made permanent, Marshall said.

“ If you just put a bill in, we change bills every year,” he explained.

Since Jones’ campaign published the press release, she said she has “been made aware” that a constitutional amendment may be required to ban uranium mining permanently. She said if the goal cannot be accomplished with a bill alone, she will move forward with proposing the amendment.
“ If I can’t do it with legislation from the Senate and the House, I will do it that way as well,” she said.

“ The studies have not proven uranium mining cannot be done safely,” she explained. “There’s going to come a time when we’re going to have to do something legislatively to bring about the protection our community needs.”