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What Will the Supreme Court’s Decision on Virginia’s Uranium Mining Ban Mean for Future Environmental Battles?

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The United States Supreme Court.

Virginia has the authority to ban uranium mining under state law, even as the federal government regulates the processing of nuclear fuel under the Atomic Energy Act, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Neil Gorsuch, joined by the court’s longest-serving and newest conservatives—Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh—rejected the idea that Congress‘ plan for nuclear enrichment could override Virginia’s decision to prohibit uranium mining altogether. On that point, these three conservatives were in sync with three of the court’s liberals, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. This remarkably diverse coalition agreed that the “Commonwealth’s mining ban is not preempted” by federal authority. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a dissent.

I have been involved in this case, Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren, in its various iterations for more than a decade. Before joining the faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law, I worked with the Southern Environmental Law Center, an environmental advocacy organization that had raised grave concerns about a proposed uranium mine near the city of Danville.

All three of the opinions published in Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren are likely to prove significant in future environmental battles—both in the courts and in the court of public opinion.

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