Judge upholds uranium mining moratorium in Virginia

Trump administration earlier asked Supreme Court to overturn Virginia uranium mining ban

A Wise County and City of Norton Circuit Court judge on Thursday (July 30) upheld the constitutionality of Virginia’s 38-year-old uranium mining moratorium on the grounds that while the ban does deprive its owners of property rights, the state has a compelling interest to do so.

[Judge] Dotson agreed that under the state Constitution, the ban does “damage” Virginia Uranium’s property.  “Absent the mining moratorium, the mineral estate is estimated to be worth at least $427 million, whereas with the mining moratorium, the mineral estate is worth exponentially less,” he conceded. Nevertheless, the judge found the ban justified by the risks of uranium mining to human health and safety and the environment, particularly with regard to the storage of radioactive tailings and their potential impacts on water supply.  (Virginia Mercury July 30, 2020)

In November 2019, three companies sued the state in an effort to change a law that is stopping them from mining uranium in Virginia after the Supreme Court’s July decision to uphold Virginia’s ability to make such a ban.

After that ruling, the companies are trying a different approach to access the uranium located under Coles Hill in Chatham, Virginia. The lawsuit has been filed by Virginia Uranium, Coles Hill, LLC and Bowen Minerals, LLC, all of which are based in the same town as the uranium deposit. The financial stakes are incredibly high, as the uranium deposit is the largest in the country and worth an estimated $6 billion.

The state law banning uranium drilling essentially argues that it is not in the public’s best interest. In their lawsuit, the companies say uranium mining is safe, and therefore the state’s claim is invalid. They contend that the ban violates the state’s constitution because it illegally restricts how the companies can use their own private property.

In April 2018, the Trump administration urged the Supreme Court to overturn Virginia’s long-standing moratorium on uranium extraction.
In a brief filed April 9 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice supported the petition asking the high court to consider whether the Atomic Energy Act preempts state laws that prohibit activities within a state’s regulatory jurisdiction, in this case, uranium mining.

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