Virginia property owners and environmentalists breathed a sigh of relief after Gov. Robert F. McDonnell put off recommending whether a two-decades-long ban on uranium mining in the commonwealth should be lifted.
After a study by the National Academy of Sciences declared that mining uranium in Pittsylvania County faces “steep hurdles,” McDonnell punted the issue over for study by a new subcommittee within the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.
Maybe that sigh of relief came too soon. It turns out that the uranium subcommittee will be working pretty much in the dark. Citizens will not be able to give their opinions in public since no hearings will take place. They can provide written comments, but most of the reports prepared for the committee will be considered the governor’s confidential working papers.
How will the public know what is going on? By reading whatever the committee chooses to put on a new Web site.
If it sounds like the fix is in, it very well may be. Consider who is heading the committee. It is a former lobbyist named Cathie J. France, who is deputy director in the department. Prior that that job, she was a registered lobbyist with Virginia Natural Gas.
Regarding the setup of the subcommittee, France was quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch as saying, “It’s not because we don’t want to be transparent.” She added that it is more convenient for the group to exchange information digitally via the Web, which presumably may or may not be made public. If it is not made public, it will be hard for outsiders to know what was not put on the new Web site or why.
France’s resume seems to lack experience with such mining or handling of radioactive materials. And in the case of uranium mining in Virginia, there has been no shortage of lobbying money. Last year, Virginia Uranium, the mining firm that wants to develop the 119 million pound deposit near Chatham, took about a dozen legislators on a tour of an abandoned French uranium mine, including an expenses-paid visit to Paris.