Coles hill, a Federal-style manor built in around 1817, presides over the largest untapped deposit of uranium in the United States. On Monday, the US Supreme Court will decide whether members of Coles family, who have worked on the land for more than 200 years, can now dig up to find what’s underneath.
In 1980s, the Virginia legislature imposed a moratorium, when the Coles wanted to mine the uranium. The fear of an unsightly mine and radioactive waste was cited then.
A few years ago, a company to revive the Virginia uranium case was formed by Walter Coles, when he saw the uranium market picking up. Since the state firmly opposed it, Walter challenged the moratorium in court. After lower courts ruled out his plea, the Supreme Court agreed to hear out the Virginia uranium case.
The issue in front of the US Supreme Court would be: Does Virginia have the right to regulate uranium mining? Or is that owned by the federal government?
The issue revolves in a community that is in dire needs of jobs. Pittsylvania County, located midway along Virginia’s border with North Carolina, has suffered the collapse of its furniture, textile and tobacco industries. Over the years, a few local residents have invested in the Coles’ mining company.
Coles, whose family owns about 20 percent of the company, said, “It’d be the engine of economic growth here.” But the constant fear of destruction to the environment and radioactive waste raises concerns among new businesses.
Ben Davenport, who owns a major oil distributor and other businesses in the Pittsylvania County seat of Chatham, said, “It’s hard to get away from the stigma of what uranium associates itself with. The thing in the middle of all this is, you know, the Coles are good friends. It’s not easy being on opposite sides.”
The uranium ore is expected to be around 119 million pounds and roughly seven years ago, it was valued at approximately $7 billion. The prices have surely gone down since then, but still a huge amount is involved.
“It’s not arguing in terms of federalism but rather in terms of federal preemption,” said Carl Tobias at the University of Richmond Law School. “And so it’s an unusual position for a Republican administration to be in arguing that federal supremacy should win out here.”
The Trump administration will have to work hard in order persuade the justices to overturn the ruling of federal judge Albert Diaz that kept Virginia’s ban on uranium mining in place.
The United States Supreme Court will hear the Virginia uranium case on Monday, November 5th.