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Assembly to consider environmental measures

By RUSTY DENNEN

Uranium mining, menhaden fishing and Sunday hunting bills are among conservation-related measures sure to generate debate at this year’s Virginia General Assembly session.

 Though no bill has been filed yet, legislators are expected to take up whether the moratorium on uranium mining and milling, in effect since 1982, should be lifted.

Lawmakers last year passed on that question after Gov. Bob McDonnell said the matter should be postponed  to allow more study. Virginia Uranium Inc. says it can safely mine a  rich deposit at Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County, while opponents say the highly radioactive material presents human health and safety, and environmental risks for hundreds of years.

 The Uranium Working Group, assembled by the governor, issued its report in November with no recommendation about whether the ban should be lifted.

 To date, one related bill has been filed—to establish a 3 percent state severance tax on mined uranium.

 Another topic on legislators’ plates again this year is menhaden. The small fish—caught by the millions and processed into oil and fertilizer, and used for bait—are a key source of food for many other species in the Chesapeake Bay.

 Several bills would bring Virginia in line with broader conservation measures along the East Coast.

 On Thursday, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bill by Sen. Richard Stuart, R–Stafford County, to comply with the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission’s 20 percent harvest cutback. A House subcommittee later in the day approved a companion bill.

 The Chesapeake Bay Foundation was among those praising the action.

 “We are hopeful the legislation will gain final approval by the full House and Senate,” CBF Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings said in a statement Friday.

 Bills to allow various forms of Sunday hunting are back this year, with several  aimed at eroding or ending the ban.

 One would allow hunting wild animals, but not birds, on Sundays on private property in Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

 Others  would allow hunting with a bow and arrow or crossbow on Sundays; killing nuisance species—such as coyotes; and Sunday hunting on private lands with permission of the landowner.

 A hunting bill filed by Sen. Frank  Ruff Jr., R–Clarksville,  grabbed some headlines. It would prohibit use of a drone to monitor and photograph hunters on private property.

 Each of the bills has been assigned to committees.

 The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Virginia Conservation Network and Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club have weighed in about this session’s crop of bills. Among their  priorities: keeping the moratorium on uranium mining and milling in place and reducing the menhaden harvest.

 Renewable energy, cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and water quality are also on their radar, among other topics.

 For example, in its most recent State of the Bay report, CBF said it will push for  funding to upgrade municipal sewage treatment plants, controlling runoff and helping farmers with soil and water conservation practices.

 One of  VCN’s goals is preserving the state’s Land Preservation Tax Credit in its current form. One bill would let the tax credit, which has helped to preserve tens of thousands of acres, expire next year. The network, which represents 150 environmental, preservation and community organizations, is  focusing its efforts on clean rivers, green communities and clean energy.

The Sierra Club supports renewable energy, preserving recreational access on rivers and streams, and transportation.

 The legislature convened on Jan. 9 and is scheduled to adjourn on Feb. 23.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431

rdennen@freelancestar.com

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