A Civics Lesson
A recent community briefing on uranium mining could have taught Capitol Hill a thing or two.
The notice from the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce said something about “uranium.” My first reaction, of course, was, “Why can’t the Chamber drop the ‘Lee’ part?”
Putting that long-held query aside, I was excited to be invited to a briefing by an organization whose name was something clever like “Patriotic Americans for Friendly, Cheap Energy.” It seems this group and the company it represented, was asking the state, uh, sorry, the Commonwealth to let the company start mining a 118 acre site in southern Virginia that was rich with uranium. Intrigued—and with the inducement of a free breakfast at Mamma’s Kitchen—I actually showered and went to the seminar.
About 20 folks attended the event, including state Del. Scott Surovell, who, in his usual candid style, said he was currently opposed to the proposal. But the first person I ran into was Sandy Liddy Bourne, a strong conservative whose father is G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate fame. Sandy and I disagree on everything, including the weather, but we’ve always had a cordial relationship and after opening pleasantries she told me she was working with that “Uranium Will Save the World and Make People Happier” group. I wasn’t shocked and she wisely argued right up front that opening up the mining would create billions of jobs. She was smooth on her feet as always, but because she was the messenger I honestly didn’t listen too closely.
Then presentation was led by a folksy guy who looked like one of Herman’s Hermits doing an ad for Brooks Brothers. He had the obligatory powerpoint with lots of charts and graphs that I could not read but he did get my attention. In fact, while Del. Surovell had said one reason he opposed the plan was because the “people in the community opposed” it, I started thinking how that is the same reasoning given for denying so many cell phone tower applications here in Mount Vernon, so when Herman said it was a “small but vocal” group of opponents, I did not reject him out of hand.
The first thing I learned was that the company would actually be extracting dirt with uranium in it—and the uranium is not radioactive! Also, it is an alternative source of energy, which we desperately need and, yes, it would create jobs, bring in revenue, etc. Fearing the worst, I asked what would happen if one of their trucks crashed on Route One. Their answer was simple: he said they’ll send in a crew and pick it up! In other words, don’t worry folks, if there was an accident the community would not be glowing like Homer Simpson the next day.
Now, it should come as no surprise when I say that I am a strong environmentalist. We recycle, we have a compost bin and I wear bio-degradable underwear. So, yes, I’m still a little nervous about this proposal. But I can’t articulate why I’m nervous about it. I’m sure—and I encourage—I will soon hear from the opponents of the proposal.
But that’s almost beside the point. Without getting too corny, I want to note that this meeting epitomized what American is all about—or what it should be about. People from the entire political spectrum got together to talk and learn about an issue. We listened, asked questions, debated and shook hands afterwards, even if we may ultimately disagree. In fact, I am now inspired to do some more reading about this issue and, who knows, I just may come out in support the measure (not that my endorsement means diddly-squat).
The point is that I appreciate the Chamber for sponsoring this event and I anticipate the Sierra Club is not far behind. And that’s cool. More importantly, I want to thank everyone in that room for taking such a civil approach to a controversial issue. It was a great democratic experience. Del. Surovell was open about his “current” position. I got to ask the experts some good questions. There were no bumper stickers within miles of the event.
The politicians on Capitol Hill could have learned a thing or two from us.