New battle over Virginia's uranium ban coming

By Sean Galvin

November 26, 2019

Companies bring a last chance suit to access the $6 billion deposit in Chatham, Virginia, which is the largest in the country.

Three companies are suing the state in an effort to change a law that is stopping them from mining uranium in Virginia. Their latest legal challenge comes after the Supreme Court’s July decision to uphold Virginia’s ability to make such a ban.

After that ruling, the companies are trying a different approach to access the uranium located under Coles Hill in Chatham, Virginia. The lawsuit has been filed by Virginia Uranium, Coles Hill, LLC and Bowen Minerals, LLC, all of which are based in the same town as the uranium deposit. The financial stakes are incredibly high, as the uranium deposit is the largest in the country and worth an estimated $6 billion.

The state law banning uranium drilling essentially argues that it is not in the public’s best interest. In their lawsuit, the companies say uranium mining is safe, and therefore the state’s claim is invalid. They contend that the ban violates the state’s constitution because it illegally restricts how the companies can use their own private property.

The argument ultimately hinges on what is called a “takings claim,” where a company or individual alleges that the government has unlawfully removed all value from their property. However, some legal experts are describing the lawsuit as nothing short of a “Hail Mary.”

According to UVA law professor Rich Schragger, a takings claim is only valid if the government takes away all of the property’s value, not just some of it. The Chatham property still can be used for other purposes, so he doubts the case will stand up in court.

“The law doesn’t guarantee that you get to do the most valuable thing with your land; the law only prevents the government from seizing it,” Schragger told the Danville Register & Bee.

Opponents to the proposed mining argue that it could wreak environmental damage on the area, leaving behind radioactive waste and a giant hole in the ground once the ore has been depleted. The trial has been scheduled for February 10 to 14.

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