The DEQ is revising its request for consulting services to study the effects of mining.
By Julian Walker
The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot
RICHMOND -- Virginia is moving ahead with further study of uranium mining as Gov. Bob McDonnell called for last month when he asked lawmakers to delay lifting a long-standing mining moratorium.
The state Department of Environmental Quality issued a solicitation Feb. 17 for "consulting services to study uranium mining and milling in Virginia relevant to potential regulations for air, water, and waste impacts."
A state official said that request for proposal is being revised. It's unclear how much will be spent on the consultant.
"We are still assessing how much may be needed," said Taylor Thornley, a spokeswoman for McDonnell.
"Most of the costs will be absorbed within the state agencies involved," she said, adding that Virginia hopes to rely on state employees or to hire someone to assist with the assessment.
Any additional cost will likely be covered with state economic contingency funds, she said.
Because state government lacks experience with uranium mining, "it makes perfect sense to look outside Virginia" for a mining expert, said Cale Jaffe, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is part of a coalition fighting to keep the uranium ban.
Lisa Guthrie, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, which also wants to keep the ban, questioned the timing and cost of the move.
She suggested that study-related fees could run into the millions at a time when Virginia finds itself in the midst of a bitter budget battle and wondered, "Where would the governor find this money and why does it rise to a state spending priority?"
She said she asked several legislators to offer budget amendments prohibiting any state funding for the advancement of uranium mining but found no takers.
The uranium debate was shaping up to be a dominant issue in the General Assembly this winter when McDonnell asked legislators "not to take any action this session to allow us time to further evaluate the law and science concerning the mining of uranium, so that the legislature can make well informed policy decisions in the future."
He asked for a study of the Coles Hill site in Pittsylvania County, which is thought to hold one of the largest uranium deposits in North America.