RICHMOND — A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit from a Virginia-based company seeking to mine the country’s largest uranium deposit over the objections of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Danville agreed with Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s argument that federal authority does not trump the state’s 33-year-old ban on uranium mining.
“The legislature has decided that the safety concerns about uranium mining warrant a moratorium,” Herring (D) said in a statement. “I’m glad we were able to successfully defend the Commonwealth’s environment and its ban in this suit and we will continue to defend both against challenges.”
Virginia Uranium filed suit in August. The company says that, if developed, a 119 million-pound deposit under southern Virginia farmland could fuel U.S. nuclear power plants for two years. The company says federal — not state — agencies have jurisdiction over the activity.
Julie Kay Rautio, a company spokeswoman, said the decision is under review.
The company is also moving ahead with a lawsuit at the state level. It filed a challenge last week in Wise County Circuit Court in southwest Virginia on the grounds that the state ban on uranium mining violates the plaintiff's property rights under the state constitution.
“We have worked exhaustively for years to satisfy concerns about our plan from our neighbors, local elected officials, state legislators and other public officials,” Virginia Uranium chief executive Walter Coles Sr. said in a statement at the time. “However, the decision by state elected officials to preserve a ban that prohibits us even from applying for a permit to mine uranium has forced us to turn to the courts for remedy.
Supporters of uranium mining say 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.
During the height of the debate a few years ago, the company also irritated some with an aggressive lobbying effort that included campaign contributions, as well as trips to France and Canada for lawmakers and their spouses.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the size of the deposit. It has been corrected.