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US Supreme Court upholds Virginia's uranium mining ban

On June 17, 2019, the US Supreme Court decided 6-3 to uphold the state of Virginia’s right to enforce its ban on uranium mining. The Court found against Virginia Uranium’s request to go forward with the Coles Hill uranium mine in Virginia where a Commonwealth law, established in 1982, placed a moratorium on uranium mining. The corporation alleged that “under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) preempts state uranium mining laws like Virginia’s and ensconces the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) as the lone regulator in the field,” arguments rejected by two lower courts and now by the Supreme Court as well.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the lead opinion, stating: “Virginia Uranium insists that the federal Atomic Energy Act preempts a state law banning uranium mining, but we do not see it.” He was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, gave a separate concurring opinion.

The win was celebrated by state officials, including Virginia attorney general, Mark Herring, who said: “This is a big win for the health and safety of Virginians and our environment. Our ban on uranium mining has protected our citizens, communities, local economies and waterways for more than 30 years.”

Walter Coles, on whose land the uranium deposit sits, remained defiant, claiming he and the company would continue to “pursue other challenges.” It remains open to speculation just how many countless millions of dollars the company has already spent attempting to get permission for the mine which, as Virginia governor, Ralph Northam pointed out “poses unacceptable threats to our natural resources.”