Supreme Court to Take Up Virginia Uranium Mining Lawsuit

May 22, 2018

In this 2013 photo, Virginia Uranium Inc. project manager Patrick Wales operates a Geiger counter in a hole near a uranium deposit on the Coles Hill Farm in Chatham. A three-decade ban on uranium mining in Virginia has put the richest known deposit of the radioactive ore in the U.S. off limits to mining.
Credit AP Photo / Steve Helber

Advocates for uranium mining have given up the fight of changing state law in Richmond. Now they’re taking their case to the Supreme Court in Washington.

Owners of a family farm in Pittsylvania County have long wanted to overturn Virginia’s ban on uranium mining. Now they’ve given up on the General Assembly, and they’re moving on to the United States Supreme Court.

Carl Tobias at the University of Richmond says this case kind of flips the traditional politics of states rights on its head.

“You would think that a Republican administration would favor states rights in this situation, which would favor Virginia’s moratorium.”

But that’s not what’s happening. Instead the Trump administration is siding with the effort to overturn the longstanding ban on uranium mining.

Virginia legal expert Rich Kelsey says the case involves the motivation of lawmakers who want to keep the ban.

“What the plaintiffs want to say is look, see these state legislators? They didn’t ban this for traditional purposes of zoning in a state. They banned it in order to trample on the federal rights of a federal agency to oversee radioactive materials.”

Huge amounts of money are at stake for the owners of the farmland in Pittsylvania, which would see an economic boost from uranium mining. Environmentalists are concerned about the potential damage that could linger for hundreds of years from all the radioactive waste that’s created in the process. Justices will wade into that debate later this year.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.