Sen. Ossoff urges officials to deny permits for mine near Okefenokee

Ossoff’s comments are among the more than 77,000 responses Georgia environmental officials received on the mine’s draft permits
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Sen. Jon Ossoff visit the Okefenokee Swamp on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.

Credit: U.S. Department of the Interior

Credit: U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Sen. Jon Ossoff visit the Okefenokee Swamp on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.

Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff is among the tens of thousands who weighed in on an Alabama company’s plans to mine near the Okefenokee Swamp, with Ossoff urging state environmental officials to deny the final permits the project needs.

The company, Twin Pines Minerals, is hoping to develop a 582-acre titanium and zirconium mine on the mineral-rich sand dunes along the swamp’s eastern edge in Charlton County.

In February, the controversial mine took a major step forward when the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) released draft permits for the project. That move opened a 60-day window for the public to review and weigh in on the permits, which ended Tuesday. EPD spokeswoman Sara Lips said the agency received more than 77,000 comments on the proposed groundwater, air quality and surface mining permits.

In a letter dated April 9 submitted to EPD and shared exclusively with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ossoff called the swamp “too precious to risk.”

“Simply put: the Okefenokee is irreplaceable,” Ossoff wrote. “Should EPD approve this mine, there is a clear and credible risk of severe and irreversible long-term damage to the (Okefenokee National Wildlife) Refuge.”

Ossoff cited earlier analyses conducted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) scientists and Rhett Jackson, a prominent hydrologist at UGA, which questioned Twin Pines and EPD’s conclusions about the mine’s impact on the swamp. Twin Pines insists its mining methods and groundwater withdrawals will not harm the refuge, which is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals and could soon be nominated as a World Heritage site, a prestigious honor reserved for landmarks like Peru’s Machu Picchu and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Last year, FWS scientists criticized the modeling Twin Pines’ environmental consultants used to evaluate the mine’s effects on the swamp’s water budget, arguing they “obfuscate” the potential impacts. Recently, FWS officials have also expressed concern that the water withdrawals the company plans would impinge on federal rights to the water that fills the Okefenokee, the largest national wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi River.

Rhett Jackson of UGA has also repeatedly warned that the mine will increase the frequency of drought in the southeast corner of the swamp, setting the table for devastating wildfires.

An alligator is seen in the Okefenokee Swamp on Monday, Mar. 18, 2024. (Hyosub Shin /


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Ossoff has vocally opposed mining near the swamp since he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2021.

Last February, after Twin Pines’ draft mining plans were released, Ossoff submitted comments to EPD arguing that the project presents an “unacceptable” risk of damage to the swamp. The Georgia senator also visited the Okefenokee with U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in 2022. Soon after their visit, Haaland wrote to Gov. Brian Kemp asking him to reject the company’s permits.

After the Georgia General Assembly failed to pass legislation during its recent session that might have impeded Twin Pines’ expansion plans, Ossoff also took aim at Kemp, calling on the governor to “stop this thing in its tracks and save the Okefenokee.”

A spokesman for Gov. Kemp declined to comment on Ossoff’s letter, but said the governor would defer to EPD on the evaluation of the permits to maintain an independent process.