Mining forum views blasted,
January 28th, 2008
Uranium-mining proponents take issue with the views expressed at last week’s forum in South Boston sponsored by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.
During the event at Halifax County High School, Ben Price, the nonprofit law firm’s projects director, exhorted attendees to keep their local government from making decisions based on the wishes of corporate elites, appointed scientific experts and other special interests.
Price challenged Virginia’s authority as a “Dillon Rule” state, which subordinates municipalities to the state, making them “as children are to the parents.” A “Dillon state” refers to John F. Dillon, a 19th century railroad lawyer and Iowa Supreme Court Justice who argued that corporations have the right to use their property rights over the will of residents if necessary.
In addition, corporations were given the same rights as individuals in 1886, Price said.
In addition, he said regulatory agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and other similar organizations, exist merely to grant permits and licenses for companies to pollute.
But Henry Hurt, investor in Virginia Uranium Inc., disagrees and said if that logic were applied in other cases, then health permits for restaurants and other businesses should also be done away with.
Also, Hurt said Price encouraged people to defy laws they don’t like.
“If everybody did that, we’d have anarchy,” Hurt, who attended the forum, said Sunday.
Price could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Virginia Uranium Inc. has proposed a uranium mining and milling operation on Coles Hill about six miles outside Chatham, and seeks a study from the National Academy of Science or other independent institution to determine whether mining can be done safely in the commonwealth.
Opponents of uranium mining are afraid of its environmental effects, but proponents, including Virginia Uranium, say it could revamp the local economy.
Shireen Parsons, CELDF Virginia community organizer, said Price was reminding citizens to ensure that their representatives carry out the will of the majority. The United States has a tradition of questioning those in power, she said.
“We have a long history of people challenging unjust systems of laws,” Parsons said, citing movements abolishing slavery and granting women the right to vote as examples.
During his presentation Thursday, Price cited the example of Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. Price said Parks broke state, federal and local laws and the bus lines’ corporate policy when she took her stand.
Residents should use the same tenacity if they want to protect public health, he said. Other communities, including those in Pennsylvania, another “Dillon Rule” state, have used their power to draft ordinances banning environmentally-unfriendly corporate practices, he said.
Citizens letting local governments base their decisions on that rule are letting dead people like Dillon run their country, Price said.
As for uranium mining in Pittsylvania County, Senate Bill 525, which asks the state to establish a commission to study whether mining is safe in the commonwealth, goes to the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Mining proponents say they don’t want the state’s moratorium on uranium mining lifted, but are merely asking for a study. Opponents say such an argument is a veiled effort to get rid of the moratorium to reap profits from mining regardless of the public-health consequences.
Walter Coles Sr., owner of Virginia Uranium, denied opponents’ claims.
“To say anybody is not concerned about the health and welfare (of residents) is absurd,” Coles said.
Coles, who lives in the middle of two bodies of ore that would be mined, said he would continue living there if that happens.