On Tuesday, conservation groups sued a U.S. agency challenging its decision not to grant a mining permit near the Okefenokee Swamp’s vast wildlife refuge.
U.S. District Court filed the lawsuit accusing the Army Corps of Engineers of violating federal law and contradicting its policies. The agency had agreed to surrender regulatory authority over the proposed mine close to the Georgia-Florida line in August.
Environmentalists are trying to stop Twin Pines Minerals’ mining of titanium dioxide at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge’s eastern edge. This is the latest step. It covers 630 miles and is the largest refuge east the Mississippi River. Scientists from the government have warned that mining close to the swamp’s bowl-like edge could affect its ability hold water.
The lawsuit was filed by four conservation groups on behalf of the Southern Environmental Law Center and stated that the Corps had stripped the proposed mine site not only of protections provided under the Clean Water Act permit but also of a host other protections guaranteed federal law.
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The Army Corps stated that it does not comment on any pending litigation.
For more than two decades, Twin Pines in Alabama and opponents to the planned mine have been agitated by shifting answers from the Army Corps about whether the federal government has regulatory power over the Georgia project.
This is because the rules have been changed twice since the company applied for mining permits in 2019. The Clean Water Act was narrowed by President Donald Trump’s administration. This led to the Army Corps declaring in 2020 that it had no jurisdiction over the Twin Pines project site’s wetlands.
After Trump’s regulatory rollbacks had been scrapped by federal courts, the Army Corps briefly reclaimed authority in June. President Joe Biden sought to restore federal oversight over Twin Pines’ proposed mine.
The government was sued by the company in response. The Army Corps reached a settlement in August that allowed the planned mine to continue without any interference.
Georgia’s state regulators are now the sole authorities for permitting the project. Twin Pines’ permits are still being reviewed by the state Environmental Protection Division.
According to the lawsuit filed by conservation groups, the Army Corps’ hand-off agreement with Twin Pines is in contradiction of the agency’s internal guidance which states that landowners cannot rely on waivers under invalidated Trump-era rules. The decision also violates the Administrative Procedures Act.
They are asking for a court’s intervention to cancel the agreement between the Army Corps and Twin Pines. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and the National Parks Conservation Association, Defenders Of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity.
Alligators, bald and endangered species can be found in the Okefenokee refuge. According to the U.S., approximately 600,000.00 visitors visit the swamp’s wildlife and cypress forests each year. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the refuge.
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Steve Ingle, President of Twin Pines, insists that his company can mine the site which includes over 556 acres wetlands without causing damage to the swamp.
The government scientists are skeptical. The Fish and Wildlife Service stated in February 2019 that the proposed mine could present “substantial hazards” to the swamp and its ability to retain water. It stated that some impacts “may not be reversed, repaired or mitigated for.”