The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Supreme Court Upholds Virginia’s Ban on Uranium Mining
YinYang / E+ / Getty Images
The Trump administration had backed a lawsuit brought by Virginia Uranium Inc. and other companies who own the nation's largest-known uranium deposit, valued at $6 billion. But that deposit is on private land in Virginia, and the state has banned all mining of the radioactive metal since 1982.
"This is a big win for the health and safety of Virginians and our environment," Virginia state Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement reported by Reuters. "We are well within our rights as a state to decide that a risky, potentially dangerous activity like uranium mining is not for us."
The cause revolved around a 1954 law, as The New York Times explained:
The question for the justices was whether a federal law, the Atomic Energy Act, barred the state moratorium. That law regulates what can be done with uranium and the radioactive waste it generates after it is extracted from the earth. If the federal law applied, it would have displaced the moratorium and allowed mining to proceed.
But the federal law regulates only the second and third steps in uranium mining. The first step is extracting the raw ore from the ground. The second is separating the ore from waste rock, or tailings, and concentrating it into so-called yellowcake, which is sold. The third step is storing the tailings, which are radioactive.
The Justices ruled six to three in favor of Virginia, with Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the ruling.
"Every indication in the law before us suggests that Congress elected to leave mining regulation on private land to the states and grant the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) regulatory authority only after uranium is removed from the earth," Gorsuch wrote, as USA Today reported.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett M. Kavanaugh joined in Gorsuch's decision, while Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan also agreed with Virginia but backed a second opinion written by Ginsburg. The New York Times reported.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote the dissent, arguing that the mining ban violated federal law because it was directed against the environmental impacts of the later steps in the uranium mining process, which federal law does cover. Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito Jr. agreed with Roberts.
Virginia is concerned about mining because the deposit is located in a scenic, agricultural county with 1,300 working farms, USA Today reported. Sixty-thousand of its residents depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and on wells for their water. The state is also concerned mining would disrupt tourism.
"We have long supported Virginia's decision to protect its communities from the environmental and economic risks of uranium mining," Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) Senior Attorney Mark Sabath said in a statement. "We are pleased that the Court respected that decision and recognized that it was one for Virginia to make."
The ruling could encourage other states to enact similar bans, Reuters reported, possibly leading to a decline in uranium production.
Virginia Uranium said it would investigate other means of challenging the state's moratorium.
"We continue to think that Virginia's uranium mining ban is both unlawful and unwise," the company said in a statement reported by Reuters.
- Virginia ban on uranium mining upheld by U.S. Supreme Court ... ›
- Virginia's uranium mining ban upheld by Supreme Court - The ... ›
- Supreme Court Backs Virginia Ban on Uranium Mining - WSJ ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
John Paul Stevens, the retired Supreme Court Justice who wrote the opinion granting environmental agencies the power to regulate greenhouse gases, died Tuesday at the age of 99. His decision gave the U.S. government important legal tools for fighting the climate crisis.
By Elliott Negin
On July 8, President Trump hosted a White House event to unabashedly tout his truly abysmal environmental record. The following day, coincidentally, marked the one-year anniversary of Andrew Wheeler at the helm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), first as acting administrator and then as administrator after the Senate confirmed him in late February.
By Tara Lohan
If you're a lover of wilderness, wildlife, the American West and the public lands on which they all depend, then journalist Christopher Ketcham's new book is required — if depressing — reading.
World hunger is on the rise for the third consecutive year after decades of decline, a new United Nations (UN) report says. The climate crisis ranks alongside conflict as the top cause of food shortages that force more than 821 million people worldwide to experience chronic hunger. That number includes more than 150 million children whose growth is stunted due to a lack of food.
By Adrienne L. Hollis
Because extreme heat is one of the deadliest weather hazards we currently face, Union of Concerned Scientist's Killer Heat Report for the U.S. is the most important document I have read. It is a veritable wake up call for all of us. It is timely, eye-opening, transparent and factual and it deals with the stark reality of our future if we do not make changes quickly (think yesterday). It is important to ensure that we all understand it. Here are 10 terms that really help drive home the messages in the heat report and help us understand the ramifications of inaction.
Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senate Republican who has been a close ally of Donald Trump, did not mince words last week on the climate crisis and what he thinks the president needs to do about it.