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Bill would limit mining for gold

Friends of Buckingham has a bill in the Virginia House of Delegates that calls for a study evaluating the impacts of gold mining on public health, safety and welfare in the state while also setting a temporary limit on gold mine operations.

The bill also asks for a recommendation as to whether the issuance of any permit to operate a gold mine should be prohibited.

House Bill 2213 (HB2213), is being carried by Del. Elizabeth Guzman and was referred Wednesday, Jan. 13, to the House’s Committee on Rules.

The piece of legislation stemmed from the Friends of Buckingham group because Canadian-based company Aston Bay Holdings had been performing drilling activities in search of gold in Buckingham for several years on the property of the Weyerhaeuser timber company. It wasn’t until 2020 that citizens and officials became aware of the drilling operations.

In a Friday, Jan. 15, email newsletter, Friends of Buckingham Secretary Heidi Dhivya Berthoud expressed frustration that the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors voted recently to allow commercial core drilling.

“Not only did they vote on Monday (Jan. 11) to allow (make legal the formerly illegal) commercial core drilling, there will be no required recording or oversight,” she wrote, “unlike drilling for a water well or a drain field, which require permits and recording for the rest of us. They just let industry run right over them… very disappointing.”

In a Wednesday, Jan. 20, newsletter, Berthoud encouraged recipients to send action letters to the 18 House Rules Committee members, urging them to support HB2213.

“HB2213, our Gold Moratorium bill, was sent first to the House Rules Committee, as we are asking for a study to look at the impacts of gold mining, for which we see that Virginia is ill-prepared,” Berthoud wrote. “It is expected to be reviewed and voted on by Friday, (Jan. 22,) so please act now.”

The email also provided the names and phone numbers of each House Rules Committee member, offering a brief, pre-written message people could leave for the 18 delegates.

“This is our urgent request for a moratorium on gold mining to allow for time to study the impacts to the drinking water of potentially millions of Virginians,” part of the message read. “An exploratory company has already found gold in Buckingham County. They say their find will lead to large-scale mining. Modern metal mining is the nation’s No. 1 toxic polluter. Because Buckingham was the target of previous industry projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, we know that a company who comes to this environmental justice community to open a mine will not have our best interests in mind.”

Following is the summary of HB2213 found in Virginia’s Legislative Information System online:

“Directs the Secretary of Natural Resources, the Secretary of Health and Human Resources and the Secretary of Commerce and Trade to conduct a study of the mining of gold in the commonwealth. The bill requires that the study be conducted in consultation with the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice and appropriate stakeholders, including experts in mining, hydrology, toxicology and other fields; environmental organizations; representatives of potentially affected communities in localities with significant deposits of gold; and residents of Native American communities in such counties.

“The bill provides that the study shall evaluate the impacts of gold mining on public health, safety and welfare; evaluate whether existing air and water quality regulations are sufficient; consider which processing and beneficiation techniques, including cyanide heap leaching and cyanide vat leaching, should be permitted; consider whether the dewatering of an open pit mine should be permitted; make a recommendation as to whether the issuance of any permit to operate a gold mine should be prohibited; and report its findings to the General Assembly by July 1, 2023. The bill also prohibits the issuance of any permit by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to operate a gold mine of an area larger than 10 acres until July 1, 2024.”