I heard conflicting reports about uranium mining when I was last in the Upper Peninsula.
Some people said the prospect of uranium mining next to Lake Superior was imminent — and that was their worst nightmare. Others dismissed it as nothing more than a rumor, or a “scare tactic” by environmentalists to put the kibosh on other kinds of mining.
Just to be clear, there has been uranium exploration in the Upper Peninsula since the 1950s. The map of active mining, mineral exploration and leases put together by the Lake Superior ad hoc Committee, which I mentioned in a previous post, shows active exploration right now at two sites in the Lake Superior region. One is near the Crystal Falls State Forest area, southwest of Marquette, in the vicinity of the Michigamme Reservoir. There is also active uranium exploration on the Canadian side, just north of the St. Mary’s River, between Sault Sainte Marie and Lake Superior Provincial Park.
If either of those sites turns out to be significant, pressure will build quickly to mine. An article in today’s Times about uranium exploration in Virginia suggests the lengths to which mining interests will go in order to exploit these valuable deposits. The Times reports that Virginia Uranium has spent more than $600,000 on campaign contributions and lobbying since 2008. They expect a haul worth $7 billion. They’ve flown Virginia lawmakers to France “to visit a tailings storage site,” and do whatever else politicians do when on an all expenses paid junket to France. And that’s only the start of the lobbying effort, the payola and the pitch to local communities.
Some of it is subtle. Virginia Uranium positions uranium mining as a national security issue and itself as “a leader in environmental stewardship.” The first claim is dubious and the second is an utterly meaningless statement when you are out to mine uranium, but it’s one I’ve heard echoed by mining companies and mining proponents operating in the Upper Peninsula.
There are other telling echoes here as well: in Virginia there are roadside signs saying “Stop Whining Start Mining,” according to the Times. The same signs started to appear in the Upper Peninsula once the new mining got underway. Maybe the rhyme comes easily to those with a big appetite for mineral extraction and a low tolerance for all this mewling about the environment. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, and at least worth noting, that the slogan also appears on bumper-stickers for sale on the website of the Acert Group — a “coalition of concerned private citizens” working “together with uranium exploration and mining companies.”
From what I have been able to learn so far about the Acert Group, they are usually busy advocating uranium mining in Arizona. But now it appears that their concern, or at least their sloganeering, might extend to other parts of the country as well.
Update (1 Feb 2013)
Yesterday, the Virginia legislature abandoned a proposal to establish state regulations for uranium mining (which would have been tantamount to lifting the moratorium). State Senator John Watkins, a mining proponent, has now asked Governor Bob McDonnell to take executive action and ask state agencies to draw up the new regulations (which would be tantamount to lifting the moratorium).
Watkins is said to be “reviewing the request”. Still, Cale Jaffe of the Southern Environmental Law Center calls this setback for Virginia Uranium “a resounding victory.”
“This is not just environmentalists,” Jaffe said. “This is small business owners in Southside, it’s farmers, it’s parents of small children, it’s community leaders, it’s physicians — all these disparate voices coming together.”
Apparently the “whining” in Virginia has become a chorus of voices. The question is whether Governor McDonnell is listening, or does Virginia Uranium have his ear?
When people think they see an economic windfall on the horizon, I guess they’ll use even the leakiest canoe to try and paddle in that direction.
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