TAYLOR: Virginia uranium mining ban is outdated

Safe production will create jobs

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Here are some fanciful questions for you: How would Alaskans feel about state legislation to ban oil production? How would West Virginians feel about state legislation to ban coal production? How would Texans feel about state legislation to ban natural gas production?

The answers to these questions are obvious. Energy production creates wealth, jobs and better living standards. None of these states would support legislation to ban energy production. Why, then, should Virginia, the state with the largest uranium deposit in the nation, continue to ban uranium production?

Energy powers our modern economy and enables us to live in comfort and prosperity inconceivable a mere 100 years ago. States that have abundant energy resources are further blessed with additional economic benefits from bringing energy resources to market.

Around the globe, desert nations that otherwise would wallow in poverty boast impressive economies based on oil production. Even in the United States, the economic benefits of energy production are undeniable. Thanks to increasing oil production, North Dakota kept its unemployment rate at less than 4.3 percent throughout the Great Recession. Texas, which leads the nation in oil and natural gas production, was responsible for nearly 40 percent of the U.S. jobs created as the nation struggled to emerge from the recession.

It would be inconceivable for Alaska to ban oil production, for West Virginia to ban coal mining or for Texas to ban natural gas production. It defies logic for Virginia to continue banning uranium production.

Unfortunately, the same activists who perpetually and without justification seek to shut down coal mining, oil drilling and natural gas production are fighting tooth-and-nail to preserve Virginia’s outdated moratorium on uranium mining. Uranium is being mined safely throughout the United States and around the world. Study after study has shown that the modern uranium mining industry looks nothing like it did 50 years ago when there were zero regulations or environmental standards. Yet that hasn’t stopped the anti-energy activists from casting the same misinformation and junk science against uranium mining that they employ against coal and natural gas.

Canada and Australia are Nos. 2 and 3 in the world in uranium production, with environmental protection records that prove the safety of uranium mining. Virginia could learn a lot from its Canadian neighbors. For more than 30 years, the Canadians have smartly embraced the economic opportunities offered by uranium mining. They have done so in harmony with the environment and the health of their communities. They have done so safely and responsibly by using the same modern technologies that would be used in Virginia. What’s more, their economy is thriving as a result. The miners in Saskatchewan make upward of $70,000 a year — even $100,000 a year, and Canada’s provincial and local governments are reaping huge tax windfalls from the industry. If Canada can mine uranium safely, we can be confident that Virginians are capable of doing the same.

Opponents play on fear and misinformation, arguing that uranium mining would be rogue and dangerous. However, uranium production would be regulated and monitored by several state environmental oversight agencies, as well as federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Regulators will not allow any mining that is environmentally unsafe or endangers human health in any way.

Other energy-producing states would never dream of halting production of their most valuable resources, yet opponents have successfully blocked Virginians from learning what it is like to be a member of the energy-blessing club. It is time for common sense to prevail and for Virginians to get back to work on the strength of energy production.

James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environmental policy at the Heartland Institute.

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