- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2012

Gov. Bob McDonnell trickled out more pieces of his 2012 agenda on Thursday, laying out a wide array of measures designed to promote and develop Virginia’s energy resources.

“Virginia is blessed with a bounty of natural resources that can aid in our nation’s growing need for affordable and reliable energy sources,” Mr. McDonnell said. “From the sustained winds off our Atlantic coast to the rich coalfields of southwestern Virginia, the commonwealth has the resources to provide a significant portion of our energy needs and to provide affordable energy resources to other states.”

Mr. McDonnell has consistently advocated an “all of the above” approach to making Virginia the “energy capital of the East Coast,” and his agenda was no different. Legislative proposals include measures to help expand natural gas use, provide certificates for utilities that invest in renewable energy technology research, and create a fund to support the state’s plan to fully convert its vehicle vehicle fleet to alternative fuel vehicles.

The agenda does not include anything regarding uranium mining, which could prove to be one of the marquee issues during the 2012 session. Virginia Uranium Inc. hopes to mine a 119 million-pound deposit of uranium oxide at the Coles Hill site in Southside Virginia worth up to $10 billion, but it will first have to convince the General Assembly to lift a 30-year ban on the practice

A much-anticipated study on the environmental, health and safety impacts of mining in the state from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded that the Virginia has “steep hurdles” to overcome if the radioactive element is to be mined safely.

The company insists that it can be done safely, while opponents say any potential health risks far exceed the potential rewards in the way of jobs and economic development for the region.

Mr. McDonnell said this week that he has gotten a detailed briefing on the report from members of his administration, and said that protecting public safety would drive any decision he makes on the issue.

“You know, it would have been a lot easier if the report had been clearly black and white … absolutely not or absolutely yes — that’s not the report that we got,” he said. “The report is, ‘It can be done, but this is a different kind of climate. This is not an arid climate, it’s a wet climate [that] creates different dynamics and here’s a list of concerns that you have to address if you’re going to do it safely in Virginia.’”

He also noted that any type of mineral extraction is an inherently dangerous proposition.

“It’s certainly a challenging scientific measure to safely mine uranium in Virginia, but … it’s something we ought to prudently and systematically consider,” he said. “That’s what I intend to do, with public safety being the first priority.”