Virginia Uranium filed a federal lawsuit against Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe for the right to mine the largest uranium deposit in the United States.
The lawsuit thrusts the controversy back into the spotlight for the first time since McAuliffe (D) promised nearly two years ago to veto legislation allowing mining, The Washington Post reported.
Virginia Uranium owns a deposit of 119 million lbs in southern Virginia. The company argues that the uranium could fuel U.S. nuclear power plants for two years and that federal — not state — agencies have jurisdiction over the activity.
Supporters of uranium mining said it would bring jobs and tax revenue to an economically struggling region, while opponents say the potential harm to drinking water and the environment isn’t worth the financial boost.
Walter Coles Sr., president and chief executive of Virginia Uranium, said the suit came after an expensive eight-year battle to persuade the state to repeal the ban and develop regulations.
“We do not come to this point lightly,” Coles said in a statement. “We had hoped that our steady progress and good faith cooperation with commonwealth legislators and officials would continue under Governor McAuliffe’s administration. But that was not to be.”
Coles said he interpreted McAuliffe’s veto threat as an “ultimatum” that gave the company “no course but to seek a legal resolution.”
A few days after winning election in 2013, McAuliffe said he would not support uranium mining and was not convinced that it is safe for drinking water, according to The Virginian-Pilot. The issue is particularly contentious in Virginia Beach and the surrounding area, which relies on drinking water from a lake downstream from the deposit.
The lawsuit says extracting the material domestically would reduce dependence on Russia, which supplies about one-fifth of the uranium used in U.S. nuclear power plants.
The company says it controls 3,500 acres atop the largest known uranium deposit in the country — and one of the largest in the world — with a market value of $6 billion.
Besides McAuliffe, the suit names as defendants 10 state officials including Maurice Jones, secretary of commerce and trade, and Molly Ward, secretary of natural resources.
Virginia Uranium argues the state won’t develop mining regulations because of environmental and radiological safety concerns over the processing of uranium ore and storage of radioactive waste. The company says working out those issues is up to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, not the state.
“The commonwealth cannot refuse to develop state mining regulations based on concerns over activities that are permissible under federal law and under the clear jurisdiction of the federal government,” Charles J. Cooper, the attorney who filed the suit, said in a statement.
The Washington law firm of Cooper & Kirk filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Danville. In addition to Virginia Uranium, the plaintiffs include Coles Hill LLC, Bowen Minerals and Virginia Energy Resources.