Court throws out uranium lawsuit against Terry McAuliffe

A federal judge dismissed Virginia Uranium's lawsuit against Gov. Terry McAuliffe Wednesday.

Federal District Court Judge Jackson Kiser's ruling also threw out cases against other administration officials challenging the commonwealth's long-standing ban on uranium mining.

Kiser's opinion, issued Wednesday from the Danville division of the Western District Court, said the company could not sue McAuliffe and other Virginia office holders because they "are insufficiently connected to" implementing the law that bans regulation of uranium mining.

McAuliffe, along with Old Dominion's secretary of commerce and trade and its secretary of natural resources, "are immune from suit," Kiser determined. So are the commonwealth's Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, 

"Plaintiffs allege that these officials generally supervise or set policy for departments involved in (the ban's) implementation," Kiser wrote. "These general roles are insufficiently proximate to or responsible for the challenged conduct and do not strip these officials of their 11th-Amendment immunity."

Kiser also dismissed a key point in the Virginia Uranium case that said the federal Atomic Energy Act trumped Virginia's mining ban.

The federal judge wrote that the federal statute "institutes no permitting regime respecting nonfederal uranium deposits' conventional mining and does not otherwise regulate nonfederal uranium deposits or their conventional mining."

Virginia Uranium spokeswoman Julie Rautio told AMI Newswire the company is "reviewing" the ruling, and has not made any decisions on whether to appeal.

Asked whether Kiser's decision will affect the lawsuit the company filed in state circuit court, Rautio said the cases represent "totally different legal arguments."

That suit, filed in Wise County circuit court, asks the court to either lift the ban and compel the state to issue a mining permit or force the state to provide just compensation for the full value of the Coles Hill uranium deposit, which is estimated to be worth $6 billion.

Virginia Uranium has fought a long and costly battle to begin mining the Coles Hill site near Chatham, in Pittsylvania County.

The state's uranium mining ban has been in place since 1982, when commercial mining companies began a nationwide search to identify economically viable uranium deposits. The Coles Hill site is estimated to contain 119 million pounds of ore, making it one of the largest deposits in the nation.