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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Lawmakers from Southside Virginia want to meet with Gov. Bob McDonnell to outline their objections to a suggestion that he order the development of regulations for uranium mining even after the proposal to establish the industry was abandoned in the face of near certain defeat in the General Assembly.
"Please do not ignore the will of the General Assembly," the two senators and four delegates wrote in a letter delivered to the governor's office this week. "To ignore the overwhelming opposition to uranium mining that has been expressed by citizens and organizations across the Commonwealth does not fit with representative government."
McDonnell has not stated his position on uranium mining or whether he would push ahead on an issue the Legislature cast aside. His office did not immediately respond Friday to requests to comment on the written appeal.
The letter was signed by Sens. Frank M. Ruff Jr. and William M. Stanley and Delegates James E. Edmunds, Donald Merricks, Danny Marshall III and Thomas C. Wright Jr., whose districts encompass counties, cities and towns near a uranium deposit that has sparked a years-long debate over a proposal to mine the radioactive ore.
They cited a broad coalition that has taken a stand against uranium mining, in addition to the Legislature's tacit rejection of bills that would have cleared the way for mining. They also said locally elected officials have overwhelmingly opposed mining.
The letter said Southside's economy is rebounding, despite chronically high rates of employment, and uranium mining would only stall further economic growth.
"Our region will be economically damaged by this stigma hanging over our heads," the letter states.
Virginia Uranium Inc. courted legislators for years in hopes of winning legislation in the 2013 session that would allow it to tap a 119-million-pound uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County. It values the ore at $7 billion and says it would create more than 300 well-paying jobs through the life of the mine.
Opponents have argued that full-scale uranium mining and milling has never occurred on the East Coast and the new industry would create unacceptable risks to the environment and public safety. Virginia Uranium has said the concerns are overstated, and that mining and milling can be done safely using the latest industry practices.
Ruff said Friday he had not discussed the issue directly with McDonnell, but had talked to the Republican's policy staff. He said his message was simple.
"We have a representative form of government and legislation should be the way to go," Ruff said.
Sen. John Watkins, a Richmond area Republican and the most outspoken advocate of uranium mining in the Legislature, withdrew a bill he proposed to establish state regulations overseeing the industry. It faced certain defeat in committee.
He then asked McDonnell to use his executive powers to direct his departments to create the regulations. The General Assembly would still have to act to lift a 31-year state prohibition on uranium mining.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap.