Southside Va. lawmakers meet with Gov. on uranium

Steve Szkotak, Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is focused on his big proposals in the General Assembly and won't be taking up the issue of uranium mining anytime soon, a legislator who met with the governor Friday said.

Delegate Donald Merricks was among six Southside lawmakers who met with McDonnell to get a read on where he stands after proposals to end a decades-old prohibition on uranium mining went nowhere in the General Assembly this session. The leading mining advocate in the Legislature, Sen. John Watkins, then asked McDonnell to direct state agencies to draw up regulations.

McDonnell has said he has not formed a position on mining and may not take one. He didn't reveal anything Friday, Merricks said.

"He's got a good poker face. He doesn't show his hand," he said of McDonnell, a fellow Republican.

McDonnell told the delegation he is focusing on his legacy transportation funding proposal and an education reform package, not uranium mining.

"He's got too many other things on his plate to be thinking about uranium," Merricks said. "I don't even think it's on his radar screen right now. Not saying it won't be down the road."

McDonnell spokesman J. Tucker Martin confirmed the meeting and said the governor's top policy people were in attendance. "The governor appreciated the opportunity to hear directly from local legislators on this issue," he wrote in an email.

The six legislators pressed for the meeting with McDonnell to underscore what they said was the General Assembly's wishes on uranium. Companion bills in the House and Senate establishing uranium mining regulations failed to even get a hearing in committee amid near-certain defeat.

Virginia Uranium Inc. has pushed the issue in hopes it can mine a 119-million-pound deposit outside of Chatham, which is about 20 miles from the North Carolina state line. The company maintains the mining and milling of the ore can be done safely using the latest industry standards and generate hundreds of jobs for the economically struggling region.

Opponents argue the job creation is not worth the environmental risks.

Besides Merricks, the other members of the delegation meeting with McDonnell were: Sens. Frank M. Ruff Jr. and William M. Stanley and Delegates James E. Edmunds, Danny Marshall III and Thomas C. Wright Jr.

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap .