CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia, February 10, 2013 (ENS) – Political pressure to lift Virginia’s longstanding ban on uranium mining threatens the health of the Roanoke River Basin, which supplies drinking water for over a million people, warns the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The advocacy organization named the “intense push” to mine uranium in Southside, Virginia on this year’s list of the 10 places in the South facing the greatest immediate, and potentially irreparable, threats.
In January, a General Assembly study panel voted to lift Virginia’s 31-year ban on uranium mining – but only in one spot in Southside Virginia. There, Virginia Uranium Inc. wants to mine a 119-million-pound deposit of the radioactive ore.
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and other opponents argue that uranium mining will slow economic growth and pose an environmental threat to the region.
Virginia Uranium says the mining and milling of uranium can be handled safely.
Nat Mund, SELC’s legislative director, said that the chief threat to the South’s natural treasures this year is a combination of economic and political challenges in addition to a vigorous crusade by anti-environmentalists in Congress and state legislatures to weaken environmental laws and enforcement.
“There’s absolutely no reason why we have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy—in fact, the two go hand-in-hand,” Mund said.
“History shows that investing in clean water, healthy air, and clean energy can create jobs and save money – and lives – in the long run. And yet, many of the South’s natural treasures are at stake because of short-sighted attempts to weaken environmental safeguards under the guise of fiscal responsibility.”
Energy issues are a major theme on the SELC’s 2013 Top 10 Endangered Places list.
“How we power our homes and businesses will determine the fate of many of the South’s special places,” Mund said.
Fracking in Alabama’s Talladega National Forest, coal ash pollution in South Carolina’s Waccamaw River and mountaintop removal coal mining in Virginia and Tennessee are on the list this year.
“SELC is advocating a better path toward a clean energy future that includes less destructive ways of extracting resources and greater investment in energy-efficiency and renewables,” said Mund.
Water supply is also an important theme this year. Plans for at least nine reservoirs in the metro Atlanta area threaten water supplies for downstream communities, headwaters streams and aquatic ecosystems, says the SELC.
Local governments and water utilities are moving forward with plans for nine reservoirs across metro Atlanta to supply the city with drinking water. Seven other reservoir projects outside of the metro region are in the conceptual or permitting stages.
SELC says the reservoirs are “unnecessary.”
The endangered areas on the list were chosen from among hundreds of special places that SELC is defending through its law and policy work in the six states of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. SELC has more than 50 attorneys working in nine offices throughout the six-state region.
Southern Environmental Law Center’s 2013 Top 10 Endangered Places List
• Talladega National Forest, Alabama: Pressure to allow fracking on 43,000 acres of the Talladega National Forest risks drinking water supplies for downstream communities and would bring industrial operations into beloved camping and hiking areas and sensitive wildlife habitat.
• Metro Atlanta’s Water Supply: Plans for multiple unnecessary reservoirs in the metro Atlanta area threaten water supplies for downstream communities, numerous headwaters streams and aquatic ecosystems.
• Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina: Plans to widen U.S. 64 would destroy 300 acres of valuable wetlands and habitat for the last wild population of red wolves, a federally endangered species.
• Cape Fear Basin, North Carolina: A massive cement plant proposed for a site near Wilmington would destroy 1,000 acres of wetlands, add unsafe levels of mercury to local waters, and increase air pollution.
• Courthouse Creek, North Carolina: A proposed timber sale in the view shed of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville threatens 472 acres of sensitive forest, a popular recreation destination, trout streams, and local tourism.
• Waccamaw River, South Carolina: Two unlined coal ash ponds near Myrtle Beach are contaminating groundwater with arsenic at up to 300 times the state standard, which flows into the Waccamaw River upstream of drinking water supplies and a national wildlife refuge.
• Goforth Creek Canyon, Tennessee: A scenic spot on the Ocoee Scenic Byway will be permanently damaged if the state builds a new and unnecessary highway through the Cherokee National Forest along a route known as Corridor K.
• Virginia and Tennessee’s Mountains: Mountaintop removal continues to threaten forests, streams, wildlife, and communities across Southern Appalachia, including a new project masquerading as a highway called the Coalfields Expressway.
• Charlottesville, Virginia: Despite more cost-effective, less damaging alternatives and strong public opposition, a $244 million proposed bypass would leave a permanent scar on one of the South’s most special communities.
• Southside, Virginia: An intense, ongoing push to lift Virginia’s longstanding ban on uranium mining threatens the health of the Roanoke River Basin, which supplies drinking water for more than one million people.