Editorial published in the Calhoun Times on November 26, 2020 by Rena Peck:
Since 2018 when Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, first proposed mining for titanium along Trail Ridge adjacent to the Okefenokee Swamp, advocates from across the nation called on science to inform federal and state decisions about the proposal.
Of course, mining next to one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders, a 438,000-acre expanse of wilderness, is inherently a bad idea, especially when the sought after mineral is neither rare nor hard to obtain. It is a common mineral that is readily available elsewhere, but the Okefenokee Swamp is uncommon — the largest blackwater wetland in North America and one that has been named a Wetland of International Importance.
If you are going to dig 50-foot pits in the ridge next to the swamp that regulates water levels in this natural treasure, you should understand how that activity might impact it. You gain that understanding through scientific study and inquiry.
Since 1972, the federal Clean Water Act has allowed us to use science to guide such decisions, but earlier this year, the Trump Administration knee-capped that federal law. It implemented a new rule that greatly reduced the kinds of streams and wetlands that are protected. The rule changed tossed science to the dumpster. And at the proposed Twin Pines mining site, it did so with potentially devastating effects. Roughly 400 acres that were previously protected under the Clean Water Act were suddenly removed from protection.
When Twin Pines discovered this, the company that for the past two years has continuously attempted to dodge any serious scientific studies of the mine’s impacts they were, no doubt, ecstatic. The feds granted a pass; no federal oversight would be required, nor would any scientific studies to inform decisions. The company has gone straight to acquiring the final necessary state permits.
Rightfully, the citizens responsible for sending some 60,000 letters and emails to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in opposition to this mine are indignant. So too are the scientists at federal agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that expressed concerns about the mine’s impact on the swamp. The rule change effectively silenced science and these thousands of voices. Now Georgia’s leaders are all that stand in the way of potentially devastating and irreversible impacts to the swamp.
Gov. Brian Kemp, state leaders, and the state’s Environmental Protection Division must demand the science that the federal government has abandoned. While the feds might treat one of our seven natural wonders cavalierly, the state shouldn’t. Georgians can let the governor know they want him to save the swamp by sending him a message through Georgia River Network’s online action alert at www.protectgeorgia.org/#/244.
Rena Ann Peck is the executive director of Georgia River Network and founder of Watershed Sustainability LLC.