State Committee Report Warns of Harmful Impacts from Large-Scale Gold Mining
Advocates from across Virginia react to report detailing potential threats to water, land, health
Chad Oba, President, Friends of Buckingham (FoB)
Kenda Hanuman, State Agency Committee (SAC) member
Buckingham, VA - On December 2, the State Agency Committee (SAC), tasked with the study of large-scale gold mining and the industry's potential impacts on communities and their watersheds in Virginia released its public report “Potential Impacts of Gold Mining and Processing in the Commonwealth.” The report details the potentially destructive effects of large-scale gold mining and its toxic waste production: “As the James River is only two miles away from the site where gold prospecting has occurred and serves nearly 2.7 million Virginians, there is a threat to the public health of those living in Buckingham County as well as those residents living in other geographical regions in the state…”
“Virginia currently does not have specific regulatory requirements for many of the chemicals used in gold mining and processing operations, including cyanide.”
The SAC final report (24 pages) was a requirement of HB2213, sponsored by Delegate Elizabeth Guzman. It includes 173 public comments beginning on page 25. The study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) begins on page 67. The total report is 294 pages.
Collectively, the studies concluded that large-scale gold mining is hazardous for Virginia as NASEM sumized that “the regulatory framework of Virginia appears to have been designed for operations like sand and gravel operations, not gold mining… More specifically, Virginia’s regulatory framework lacks an adequate financial assurance system, which poses a fiscal and environmental risk to the Commonwealth.”
The SAC Executive Summary has some good news: “The Virginia General Assembly has given localities the authority to regulate or prohibit mining. Additionally, localities can generally affect mining operations through their zoning authority. Thus, state and local approvals are necessary before any mining activity can take place in the Commonwealth.”
The 17-member Committee (SAC) included representatives from the Virginia Department of Energy, Department of Health, Department of Environmental Quality and environmental and community stakeholders. It focused on local equity and environmental justice issues, and environmental and human health concerns. The report’s findings are meant to inform members of the General Assembly, enabling them to pursue protective measures.
The SAC report references additional concerns and recommendations from the public, including: “a moratorium or ban on mining permits, implementation of ‘Prove it First’ policies, prioritizing abandoned mine closure, banning the use of cyanide, pre-mining water testing, increased involvement from VDH and prohibiting pooled bond funding.”
A coalition of advocacy organizations including Friends of Buckingham, Appalachian Voices, Virginia Community Rights Network, Southern Environmental Law Center, Virginia Conservation Network, The Piedmont Environmental Council, Virginia Conservation Network, and more, have worked to educate the public on this increasingly concerning issue and have closely followed the progress of the SAC and NASEM reports.
Chad Oba, President of Friends of Buckingham (FoB) said, “As a community already impacted by this threat, we are not surprised by the warnings from the SAC and the NASEM of the harms from large-scale gold mining, but we are very concerned the state will not stop the industry’s forward progress and protections may be needed at both the state and local levels.”
“This report confirms that current state law does not protect us. The first permit is at the local level where a community can assert their local right and responsibility to protections from the toxic trespass that would come with industrial gold mining,” said Heidi Dhivya Berthoud, President of Virginia Community Rights Network. “A proposed ordinance in Buckingham requires a metallic mining company to ‘Prove It (Safe) First’. (We would like to see Virginia adopt ‘Prove it First’ Law). It also requires a complete Environmental Justice review prior to any permitting.”
Queen Shabazz, Coordinator, Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative; SAC member said: “The VEJC is very concerned that VA does not have adequate provisions in place to protect vulnerable populations from gold mining and extraction. The cost to EJ communities far outweighs the benefits of these practices and leaves not only a void in spirit but also a gaping wound in our beloved Mother Earth.”
“Though the study reports were restricted to talking about gold mining, it is nevertheless clear that Virginia’s current mining regulations are insufficient for any metal mining and pose fiscal and environmental risks to Virginians,” says Katie Whitehead, a resident of Pittsylvania County, which is well-known for a uranium deposit and is also the site of recent exploration for copper, zinc, lead, and other metals. “Our regulations fail to require evaluation of potential environmental and health impacts and adequate, upfront financial assurances from mining companies to pay for potential problems. Virginia also falls short in providing opportunities for diverse public engagement that can assist in legislative and regulatory decisions and protect communities.”
SAC member; FoB Gold Mining Committee Chair, Kenda Hanuman, reports: "Consensus was not reached on multiple issues, including, on page 5 of the Executive Summary: ‘The contents of this report are based upon the state agency component’s Statement of Task on which the members of the SAC came to consensus.4’
Footnote #4: ‘The SAC was not able to come to consensus on whether to recommend a moratorium or an outright ban on gold mining.’ "
Chris Miller, President of The Piedmont Environmental Council: “The report reaffirms the need for intense caution and scrutiny over the potential for gold and other metal mining in Virginia. Most importantly, the report makes it clear that there are deficiencies in the current law and regulatory oversight of mining activities.
It further acknowledges that there are numerous unremediated and unreclaimed mining sites throughout the Pyrite Belt running from Buckingham County north through parts of Lousia, Orange, Spotsylvania, Madison, Culpeper, Fauquier, Prince William and Fairfax counties. PEC believes that no new mining permits should be issued in Virginia until remediation and reclamation plans for existing sites are completed and regulatory reforms are made that protect communities and the environment.”
Patrick Fanning, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Staff Attorney, said:
“The report acknowledges that Virginia does not have sufficient regulations to protect human health and the environment from the impacts of industrial scale gold mining in the Commonwealth. Under the current lack of regulations, gold mining in Virginia threatens to create additional pollution in our rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.”
Nicole Duimstra, Virginia Conservation Network. VCN supported the metals mining policy paper Friends of Buckingham helped author: Protecting Our Waters from Metals Mining.