Gov. Bob McDonnell's uranium working group will be doing its work outside the light of public scrutiny. It could use the illumination.
Lawmakers and the governor chose caution and delayed the decision this year. That gives everyone time to digest fully the science and the risks. A National Academy of Sciences study released mere weeks before the General Assembly convened warned that a lot more needs to be known before anyone concludes mining could be done safely.
In January, McDonnell formally announced his support for postponement and created a working group to study the issue further. In his announcement, he said, "I have directed the group ... to allow thorough opportunity for public participation in its work."
The work group has other ideas. It invokes the oft-abused governor's working papers exemption to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to keep its work out of the public eye. Virginians whose health and environment are most at risk if uranium mining goes badly, and who stand to gain tax revenue if it goes well, will be kept in the dark.
When the working group gathers scientific data or commissions expert reports, it will keep most information secret. The group promises to take public comment at meetings, but much of its deliberation will be behind closed doors.
Cathie France, the group's chairwoman and deputy director of the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, insists this is all to make things easier for the group. "It's not because we don't want to be transparent," she said.
The governor promised thorough public participation. If he, France and the rest of his working group truly want to be transparent, they will make sure that crucial data will be seen by people beyond the governor's office.