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Republican Georgia House bill seeks to block mining at edge of Okefenokee Swamp

The bill would prohibit the state from granting mining permits along Trail Ridge on the swamp’s eastern boundary.

SAVANNAH, Ga. — A group of Georgia lawmakers is trying to prohibit future mining near the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp and its vast wildlife refuge, though their proposal wouldn't stop a company's mining application currently before state regulators.

Rep. Darlene Taylor of Thomasville and five fellow Republicans in the state House introduced a bill, HB 781, Tuesday that would prohibit the state from granting mining permits along Trail Ridge on the swamp’s eastern boundary. But it would only block permit applications submitted after June 30.

The state's environmental agency last week released a draft mining plan for Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals to mine titanium dioxide on the ridge, moving the project a big step closer to winning approval.

Since 2019, Twin Pines of Birmingham, Alabama, has been seeking government permits to mine less than 3 miles from the southeastern boundary of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest U.S. refuge east of the Mississippi River.

Federal scientists have warned that mining near the Okefenokee’s bowl-like rim could damage the swamp’s ability to hold water. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland recently declared the proposed mine poses an “unacceptable risk” to the fragile ecosystem at the Georgia-Florida line.

Credit: AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File

However, the federal government relinquished any permitting authority over the Twin Pines project following a rollback of environmental regulations under President Donald Trump. That means Georgia state regulators alone will decide whether to approve the mine.

Twin Pines has insisted it can mine without harming the swamp. In a summary of the draft mining plan, Georgia regulators said their own analysis “concluded that water level in the swamp will be minimally impacted.”

While Taylor's bill wouldn't stop the permit applications Twin Pines already has pending to mine on 773 acres, the measure could keep the company's operation from expanding if it becomes law.

Taylor filed a similar bill last year, but it languished in a House committee without coming up for a vote.

"This legislation is needed to protect the Okefenokee, a place we consider to be the wild heart of Georgia," said Rena Peck, Executive Director of Georgia River Network, a statewide river advocacy group working to protect the Okefenokee. "As Rep. Taylor and countless scientists have noted, to protect the Okefenokee we must also protect Trail Ridge. We shouldn't allow strip mining next to the one-of-a-kind Okefenokee when these common minerals can be recovered more safely and in abundance elsewhere."


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