By Published by The Editorial Board
Published: September 22, 2009
To the editor:
The announcement that Virginia Uranium Inc. will be paying for the “study” of the feasibility of mining and milling uranium in Virginia only goes to point out how ridiculous this process has been up to this point. Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, sounded almost giddy with delight that this boondoggle has found a backer, even though having VUI pay for its own study is an obvious conflict of interest.
A look at the events leading up to this announcement is a textbook example of how big business controls government. In 2007, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors caved into Walter Coles’ request that they do nothing and ask no questions about his uranium-mining plan. Only Hank Davis and Marshall Ecker had the courage to raise doubts about what this might mean to the county. The rest of them bowed down and agreed to do nothing. They passed on their responsibility to the citizens of Pittsylvania County.
They and the county administrator sold us down the river to Richmond.
Then Chatham Town Council agreed to do nothing as well. Even though Mayor George Haley tried valiantly to persuade them to consider the consequences of acceding to the uranium interests, they as well chose the head-in-the-sand option. They sucked up Coles’ fairy tale of “a glorious new era for Southside” and were blinded by his promises of billions of dollars being thrown around like free candy at the Christmas parade.
As soon as the local politicians were dealt with, VUI focused its attention on the “study.” The Uranium Mining Subcommittee, appointed by the Coal and Energy Commission, set off on its own trip to Oz, with Del. Kilgore in the role of Dorothy. And that meant that we were not in Kansas anymore. The push for uranium mining had moved to Richmond and the bigger arena of the state legislature, where politics as usual dictates that what is done or not done is directly proportionate to the amount of lobbying dollars being thrown at the legislators.
So now we are at the mercy of the Coal and Energy Commission, the entity that has overseen the virtual destruction of much of Southwestern Virginia with mountain top removal coal mining, including in Del. Kilgore’s own Scott County. Now they are looking at Southside and licking their chops over the proposed uranium mine and mill. They finally have the money they need to set in motion a “study” of that mining that can only reach one logical conclusion, that uranium can in fact be mined safely with certain regulations in place — regulations that would be written with a large portion of help from the mining industry itself.
We don’t have to look far to see what a dismal record the mining conglomerates have regarding the environment and public safety. If they will allow the mountains of Southwest Virginia to be destroyed and the toxic waste products bulldozed into the streams and rivers of that part of the state, why would they care about what happens to Southside?
VUI paying for this “study” and the uranium industry crafting the regulations is akin to handing a 3-year-old a shotgun at the family reunion. Someone is likely to get hurt. In this case, what VUI is planning (“away from everything”) as Del. Kilgore claims in his ignorance of geography, a great many people stand to suffer, both near the proposed mine site and as far away as Virginia Beach. Obviously no one is paying much attention to the folks living within a mile, or five miles or 50 miles of Coles Hill.
If Coles is willing to destroy his own home and the land his family has owned for hundreds of years, it is foolishness to imagine that he or the Canadian mining conglomerate he sold out to would give even a passing thought to what might happen to the rest of us. This will not be the hometown business VUI has claimed it would be.
The Canadian speculators who would destroy Pittsylvania County do not care one way or another. To them, the people on the periphery are simply expendable.
And so it will be interesting indeed to see how this greatly anticipated and heavily burdened “study” will turn out now that we know who is putting up the big bucks. It is also interesting that the National Academy of Sciences has yet to agree to anything concerning uranium mining in Virginia.
But as Del. Kilgore said, “We’re hoping to get everything signed, sealed and delivered on the scientific, technical study.” That is exactly right — signed, sealed and delivered straight to VUI’s mailbox.
JESSE PYRANT ANDREWS