Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling will announce Friday that he opposes lifting Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining, a position that could be critical if he has to cast a tie-breaking vote on the issue in the state Senate early next year.
Bolling will make his announcement at a news conference in Danville, according to two sources with knowledge of the lieutenant governor’s plans. Bolling will be speaking only for himself, and not for Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration, the sources said. McDonnell has not taken a position lifting the 30-year-old moratorium. Bolling serves as the administration’s chief jobs creation officer.
Bolling’s announcement will come two weeks after he ended his candidacy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and criticized the party’s presumptive nominee, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Bolling said at the time that his withdrawal would allow him to speak with an independent voice on policy matters, and the controversial uranium mining issue may be his first step in that direction. Bolling also has not ruled out an independent candidacy for governor.
The debate over the 30-year-old uranium mining moratorium likely will be one of the most contentious issues of the 2013 General Assembly session, which begins Jan. 9. Lifting the moratorium would be a first step toward allowing Virginia Uranium Inc. to mine a 119-million-pound ore deposit in rural Pittsylvania County. A multi-agency state working group released a report two weeks ago outlining a regulatory framework for mining and milling that could be put in place if lawmakers lift the ban.
State Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, has announced plans to introduce legislation to lift the uranium mining ban and establish a regulatory program for mining and milling.
Two state legislators who represent the proposed mining site said they plan to oppose lifting the ban. Del. Don Merricks, R-Chatham, reaffirmed his opposition last week, saying he believes uranium mining and milling “will provide the potential for health risks and environmental contamination.”
State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, said tonight that he, too, remains opposed to lifting the ban. Stanley said he was asked to attend Bolling’s Friday news conference, but declined because of prior commitments. An advisory issued by Bolling’s office earlier today said that the lieutenant governor will make an announcement at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research with local legislators, officials and business leaders.
Stanley called the timing of Bolling’s announcement ironic “after what has transpired the last few weeks.”
“It’s good to know that if it comes down to a 20-20 vote [in the Senate] to lift the ban, he’ll vote no,” Stanley said. “I don’t know that his announcement tomorrow moves the needle one way or the other.”
– Michael Sluss