Bipartisan bill would ban mine permits near Okefenokee Swamp

Legislation filed as state weighs permits for controversial mine
A bill was filed Tuesday that would prohibit Georgia's EPD director from issuing permits in the future to allow mining on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.

A bill was filed Tuesday that would prohibit Georgia's EPD director from issuing permits in the future to allow mining on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.

A bill filed in the General Assembly could hobble a company’s plans to mine titanium on the edge of Georgia’s Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

House Bill 1289 would not stop the consideration or awarding of the mining permits filed by Twin Pines Minerals, LLC., if the state’s Environmental Protection Division approves them before July 1, 2022.

However, it would bar the agency’s director from issuing new permits or amending existing ones after that date. The application being weighed by the EPD is for a 740-acre demonstration mine, and the agency has said that any expansion of the mine would require a new set of permits.

Despite the bill’s introduction, Twin Pines said it is moving forward.

“We are proceeding with our plans and will abide by the environmental regulations that are actually on the books and applicable to our project as we have done from day one,” said company president Steve Ingle.

The bill introduced by Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville, faces an uncertain path to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk, but it does have the backing of a large and influential bipartisan group of sponsors. The cosponsors include Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, who is Chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee; Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet, Chairman of the House Intragovernmental Coordination Committee, as well as 15 others.

The governor’s office declined to comment on the legislation, but Kemp issued a proclamation Tuesday declaring February 8 “Okefenokee Swamp Day” in recognition of the swamp’s importance as a wildlife refuge and economic driver. More than 600,000 people visit the wildlife refuge every year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The bill would limit mining on Trail Ridge, an ancient complex of inland sand dunes that forms the eastern boundary of the swamp. Many experts consider the formation critical to the swamp’s health and have warned that mining there — as Twin Pines plans to — could disrupt the fragile ecosystem. A previous attempt by DuPont to mine on the ridge was halted by conservationists 25 years ago.

Environmental groups opposed to the mine praised the bill.

“HB 1289 is a testament to how much Georgians value our Okefenokee Swamp,” said Alice Keyes, vice president of coastal conservation for the nonprofit group One Hundred Miles. “This nonpartisan bill is sponsored by House committee chairs from all over the state and coastal legislators, who all understand the risk of mining near such an international treasure.”

The fate of the controversial mine still rests with Georgia’s EPD. Earlier this week, Twin Pines submitted more information to the agency on its plans for wastewater storage. If the EPD is satisfied with the company’s responses, a draft permit for the mine could soon be opened to public comment.