An Okefenokee mine in Georgia is the center of a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers over lax oversight.
Twin Pines Minerals intends to move ahead with mining titanium dioxide near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, a large nature refuge in Georgia. The refuge includes most of the Okefenokee Swamp, which sits in a large geological ‘bowl’ formed by the rock beneath the swamp, rock which happens to be rich in titanium dioxide. There is concern that mining along the edge could damage that natural bowl, causing the water level to drop significantly and doing permanent damage or even entirely destroying the swamp ecosystem.
In August, the Army Corps of Engineers waived their regulatory jurisdiction over the proposed mine, freeing them of any federal oversight and leaving all permitting authority to Georgia state regulators. This waiver happened because of former President Donald Trump’s 2019 narrowing of which waterways fell under Army Corps jurisdiction. Trump’s decision was rolled back by federal courts in June, but after the mining company sued to uphold the vacated decision, the Army Corps washed their hands of the matter.
“The Corps has stripped the proposed mine site of not only protections provided by a Clean Water Act permit, but also a host of other protections guaranteed by federal law,” attorneys for the Southern Environmental Law Center said in the lawsuit, filed on behalf of four conservation groups.
The conservation groups, which include the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the National Parks Conservation Association, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, say that the Army Corps has violated its own internal policies on behalf of a private company. The policies in question make it explicitly clear that the invalid Trump-era rulings are not to be taken into consideration by the Corps.
The Okefenokee Swamp only exists because the impermeable stone bowl that contains it has no egress for any water, keeping the water table as high or higher than the ground level within. Any mining action at all could open an egress, permanently draining the 650-square-mile wetland.