About 200 million years ago, something strange happened in Pittsylvania County. Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on what to do about that.
Technically, Virginia Uranium, Inc. v. Warren has nothing to do with the Mesozoic Era and everything to do with the classic (but more contemporary) struggle between state and federal governments. Virginia Uranium wants to mine a deposit of uranium found under farmland about 8.5 miles east of Chatham and says Virginia’s ban on uranium-mining violates the federal Atomic Energy Act.
Virginia says that act applies only to uranium mines on federal lands, not private property. The Trump administration has weighed in on the side of the company. Politically, this sets up a curious role reversal, with the conservative president arguing in favor of federal power and the liberal attorney general of Virginia arguing on behalf of state’s rights.
Here’s what probably won’t get addressed in the oral arguments Nov. 5: Just why is there uranium in Pittsylvania County anyway? We’ve talked to two experts who have studied this deposit and their answer is the same: Nobody knows. In fact, this little patch of land known as Cole’s Hill is so geologically unique that scientists have come from all over the world to study it, uranium or no uranium.
Let’s rewind to the Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era, a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, content in their superiority. Pittsylvania County then wasn’t part of Virginia; it was part of Pangaea, a super-continent that was breaking up. The future North America went one way; the future Africa went another.