Tara Bozick/Register & Bee
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell (right) learns how giant reed could be a source product for biofuels in the region during Monday’s biofuel demonstration site tour guided by Kenneth Moss, chief operating officer of Piedmont BioProducts.
By Catherine Amos
Published: August 10, 2009
After a day of touring the Dan River Region’s success stories in technology and economic development, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell spoke with area residents at a town hall meeting in Danville Monday night.
About 200 people gathered at the Institute for Advanced Learning & Research for an hour and a half question-and-answer session after McDonnell gave a few opening comments on his platform, focusing heavily on job creation and improving Virginia’s economy, especially in Southside.
The former attorney general spoke about the staggering unemployment figures facing the Dan River Region — more than 20 percent in Martinsville — and the need for a state government that cultivates entrepreneurship and small business through low regulation and litigation.
“The most important thing facing Virginia is to grow jobs, grow opportunities,” McDonnell said. “That really is what I believe this election is all about. To me it starts with keeping a strong basis for economic development.”
McDonnell was greeted with a round of applause when he mentioned his plan to be “on the ground” in Southside Virginia at least once a month, meaning either he or the lieutenant governor will meet with local leaders on a regular basis.
After praising the technology and innovation at the Piedmont BioProducts plant in Gretna and indoor fishery Blue Ridge Aquaculture in Martinsville, McDonnell thanked Delegate Danny Marshall and the Tobacco Commission for “having the foresight to support” those ventures.
“Unbelievable,” McDonnell said of the biofuel plant. “You’ve got incredible biotechnology here. They’re using crops like switchgrass and hearty sugar cane in a process that is revolutionary and only here in Southside Virginia and turning that into green oil.”
In addition to promoting green and alternative energy, McDonnell supports Virginia being the first state to drill off the Atlantic coast in 2011, a position the crowd enthusiastically commended. If elected, he wants to use 80 percent of the state’s tax revenue from off-shore drilling for transportation and 20 percent for green energy research.
During the question-and-answer portion, McDonnell fielded more than a few questions about whether he would support uranium mining. He told the crowd multiple times that he would not vote on anything without the proper research and studies done on the safety and viability of mining, although he acknowledged the economic value for Virginia.
“I’ve been following the situation here at Coles Farm and I think there’s an estimated $10 billion in the market value in uranium,” he said. “Obviously there are any number of issues that need to be considered before uranium mining is permitted.”
Two people, including Danville Vice Mayor T. Wayne Oakes, asked about how McDonnell plans to attract more local students to local colleges and keep them working here after graduation. McDonnell supported local colleges opening more spots for Virginia students and improving economic development incentives to provide better jobs.
President Barack Obama’s cap and trade legislation was only mentioned once by McDonnell, who opposes it, and no one mentioned the controversial health care reform proposal. A few residents asked about illegal immigration; McDonnell supports stronger civil immigration laws.
Toward the end of the event, a teenage boy asked about the future availability of the green gas made in Gretna, and McDonnell applauded his participation in the event.
“I really appreciate seeing several young people that are here,” he said. “We cannot take democracy as a spectator sport … You have to care, you have to get involved.”
Perhaps the R&B reporter didn't hear all of the comments or questions regarding the proposed uranium mining or the proposed study. We're including contemporaneous notes taken during the meeting by one of the audience members, Karen Maute. Apparently Mr. McDonnell isn't staying current with the mining issue. We have edited the remarks for clarity and removed names of the individual speakers:
McDonnell's opening remarks were fairly generic and echoed what he's been quoted as saying at various venues. He stated that he felt Virginia should encourage tourism and the film industry as well as promoting agriculture. I found myself wondering how well we could promote these things if we were best known as the only uranium mining state east of the Mississippi?He stated we need to be an "energy leader", mentioning Areva and Northrop Grumman (vpap.org shows a sizable donation to his campaign of $25,000.00) which he says includes drilling off the coast and for gas, clean coal and nuclear power and that we should use every resource to become an "energy leader".Somewhere in the Q&A period he spoke of drilling off the coast and the ride we would have being the first eastern state to do so. He pointed to the Gulf Coast as an area where it had been done with little environmental impact.Also mentioned need for research and tax credits re: energy.He mentioned his transportation plan and protection of private property rights.The first question came from the facilitator of the meeting. The facilitator asked about uranium mining in Virginia. McDonnell praised the General Assembly for authorizing the study and said that was underway and said we should have their findings soon. He said that decisions should be made on the findings of the study.Others spoke re: uranium. Deborah Dix stated her opposition to uranium mining and read from a document that stated that no level of radioactive exposure could be deemed as safe. Again, McDonnell said he would look at the study committee's findings and any other credible studies that he might have before coming to a decision re: uranium mining.[Another] told McDonnell that the Coal & Energy Commission (not the General Assembly) had authorized the study, that it was not underway, and there is no indication as to who is going to conduct the study or pay for it. She then asked him who he thought should pay for it. He said he guessed she was asking if the industry paid for it that, perhaps, it would be perceived as a tainted study. He seemed to favor the state and/or private entities paying for the study. He was clearly taken aback by this speaker's information re: how the study was authorized and that there was no one under contract to conduct the study. He did not appear to be aware of these facts about the study.I asked about the low level radioactive waste compact of which VA is a member and whether, if we were mined, that would increase VA's chances of being the next host state for low level radioactive wastes since SC is no longer accepting it and NC [the state which was to become the next host for the region] reneged since its citizens did not want the dump situated there? This too (the LLRW Compact info) seemed to be something of which he was not very aware.