The Bulletin

Uranium mining ban upheld as Supreme Court of Va. declines to reopen lower court ruling

By: - September 30, 2021 3:57 pm

The Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond, Va. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For The Virginia Mercury)

In a terse decision issued Thursday, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled it would not take up an appeal of a lower court’s decision to uphold the state’s uranium mining moratorium. 

“The Court is of the opinion there is no reversible error in the judgment complained of,” SCOVA ruled. “Accordingly, the Court refuses the petition for appeal.” 

The decision upholds a July 2020 Wise County Circuit Court ruling and again leaves intact Virginia’s 39-year ban on uranium mining, which the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the state had a right to impose in 2019

“Congress conspicuously chose to leave untouched the states’ historic authority over the regulation of mining activities on private lands within their borders,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the Supreme Court in that case, Virginia Uranium, Inc. et al. v. Warren et al

Virginia Uranium has been seeking for years to mine a site in Pittsylvania County, which is home to the largest known uranium deposit in the U.S. However, shortly after the valuable material used to power nuclear reactors was discovered in the state, Virginia imposed a ban on its extraction due to environmental and public health concerns. 

A 2013 effort to eliminate the ban through legislation was unsuccessful. 

But while the suit that ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court had argued that the federal Atomic Energy Act should override Virginia’s moratorium, a separate argument by Virginia Uranium in Wise County Circuit Court contended the state ban unconstitutionally deprived the owners of their property rights. 

In July 2020, Judge Chadwick Dotson ruled against the company, finding that while the ban does deprive owners of property rights, Virginia has a compelling right to do so in the case of uranium mining. 

“There really can be no argument that a moratorium on uranium mining, which is an inherently dangerous activity with potentially dangerous interdict effects, achieves the commonwealth’s rightful duty to protect the public from injury and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizenry,” he wrote. 

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on Thursday applauded the Supreme Court of Virginia’s decision to not open up an appeal of Dotson’s ruling, saying it “yet again affirms what I have been saying all along — that Virginia has the right to regulate mining activities.” 

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.