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Va. lawmaker proposes uranium tax

Patrick Wales, project manager for Virginia Uranium, speaks during a meeting of the Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy at the Capitol Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 in Richmond, Va. (Steve Helber/AP)

The Virginia lawmaker planning legislation that would partially lift the state’s 30-year ban on uranium mining permits is proposing a 3 percent tax on companies seeking to mine the mineral.

Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Midlothian) filed the tax legislation on Monday. Under the proposal, half of the severance tax revenues would go to the commonwealth’s general fund and the other half would go into an Economic Development and Environmental Trust Fund to be administered by the local government where a uranium mine would be located.

Watkins is expected to file a bill next week that would only lift the permit moratorium for the 119-million pound uranium lode found in Chatham and owned by Virginia Uranium.

A proposal to lift Virginia’s 30-year ban on uranium mining advanced Monday when a legislative panel recommended that the General Assembly address the issue this year.

The Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy approved a motion in favor of legislation after the Uranium Working Group presented the findings from its report, which was released last month. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) established the group to describe what kind of regulatory framework would be necessary if legislators decide to lift the moratorium.

Watkins has said his proposal would apply only to the proposed mining site in south-central Virginia owned by Virginia Uranium. “This isolates it to Coles Hill,” Watkins said on Monday. “I want the bill to pass. If there were other entities that were doing research and development in other places in the state . . . I don’t know of any.”

Lifting the ban could clear the way for supporters to mine what is considered the country’s ­largest-known uranium deposit. The uranium lode in the small town of Chatham has divided the community, pitting economic interests against environmental and safety concerns.

The issue is likely to be one of the most contentious of the legislative session, which begins Wednesday.

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