Undoing Trump rule won’t likely affect Okefenokee mine plan

Jun 10, 2021, 11:50 AM | Updated: 1:14 pm

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — The Biden administration’s plan to revive protections for some wetlands and streams that got eliminated during Donald Trump’s presidency isn’t likely to restore federal oversight of a proposed mine outside the Okefenokee Swamp’s vast wildlife refuge.

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the first steps toward undoing and replacing the Trump-era environmental rule that narrowed the types of U.S. waters that qualify for federal protection from pollution under the Clean Water Act. A review ordered by President Joe Biden found at least 333 projects had that would have required a federal permit no longer needed one after the Trump administration’s rule change took effect last year.

Among the beneficiaries of the 2020 change was Twin Pines Minerals. The Alabama-based company has spent two years seeking permits to mine titanium dioxide on land 2.9 miles (4.7 kilometers) from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge near the Georgia-Florida line.

Federal scientists have warned that mining near the Okefenokee’s bowl-like rim could damage the swamp’s ability to hold water. Regardless, the Army Corps of Engineers declared last October that it no longer had permitting jurisdiction over the project because the rule change under Trump excluded wetlands on the site from federal protection.

Even if Biden moved swiftly to reverse Trump’s rule, it’s probably too late to force Twin Pines and other project developers already cleared of federal permit requirements to reapply for them, said Kelly Moser, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

That’s because decisions on whether projects need Clean Water Act permits last for five years, unless there’s a specific reason to revisit a particular project.

Moser is handling a federal lawsuit in South Carolina by conservation groups challenging the rollback under Trump. She said getting a court to rule that the Trump administration changed the rule illegally is probably the only way to restore federal oversight of projects like the mine outside the Okefenokee.

“A Biden rule won’t reverse the removal of federal clean water protections, only a court ruling will,” Moser said Thursday. “That’s why we remain in court fighting against the unlawful rule.”

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge covers nearly 630 square miles (1,630 square kilometers) in southeast Georgia and is home to alligators, bald eagles and other protected species. The swamp’s wildlife, cypress forests and flooded prairies draw roughly 600,000 visitors each year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge.

EPA spokesperson Nick Conger said in a statement that “protecting treasures like the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge” is a key reason for replacing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule enacted under Trump.

Still, Conger said the Trump-era rule “will continue to be implemented,” with decisions on permitting requirements lasting five years, until a replacement rule is completed.

In February 2019, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote that the proposed mine outside the Okefenokee could pose “substantial risks” to the swamp, including its ability to hold water. Some impacts, it said, “may not be able to be reversed, repaired, or mitigated for.”

Steve Ingle, president of Twin Pines, has insisted his company can mine the site without harming the Okefenokee. Ingle has said mining will occur on a ridge above the swamp and won’t go deep enough to cause underground leaks.

In a statement regarding Biden’s plan to replace the Trump-era rule, Ingle said: “Right now it would be pure speculation as to what it might or might not be.”

“We will follow the guidelines that are in force now and in the future,” Ingle said, “and will continue to do what the regulators instruct us to do.”

Without federal oversight, sole permitting authority over the proposed mine now rests with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, a Georgia Democrat, and others have asked state regulators to enlist help from federal scientists as they review five permit applications from Twin Pines. But the Georgia agency has been cool to the offer.

Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has declined to take a stand on the proposed mine.

“The onus remains on Governor Kemp and Georgia EPD to accept the offer of assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cooperate in the investigation of the proposed mine’s impacts on the Okefenokee,” said Josh Marks, an Atlanta environmental attorney who opposes the Twin Pines mine.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Lead water pipes pulled from underneath the street are seen in Newark, N.J., Oct. 21, 2021. (AP Pho...

Associated Press

Biden to require cities to replace harmful lead pipes within 10 years

The Biden administration has previously said it wants all of the nation's roughly 9 million lead pipes to be removed, and rapidly.

2 days ago

Facebook's Meta logo sign is seen at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on, Oct. 28, 2...

Associated Press

Meta shuts down thousands of fake Facebook accounts that were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024

Meta said it removed 4789 Facebook accounts in China that targeted the United States before next year’s election.

2 days ago

A demonstrator in Tel Aviv holds a sign calling for a cease-fire in the Hamas-Israel war on Nov. 21...

Associated Press

Hamas releases a third group of hostages as part of truce, and says it will seek to extend the deal

The fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was back on track Sunday as the first American was released under a four-day truce.

7 days ago

Men look over the site of a deadly explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Wednesday, Oct. 18, ...

Associated Press

New AP analysis of last month’s deadly Gaza hospital explosion rules out widely cited video

The Associated Press is publishing an updated visual analysis of the deadly Oct. 17 explosion at Gaza's Al-Ahli Hospital.

10 days ago

Peggy Simpson holds a photograph of law enforcement carrying Lee Harvey Oswald's gun through a hall...

Associated Press

JFK assassination remembered 60 years later by surviving witnesses to history, including AP reporter

Peggy Simpson is among the last surviving witnesses who are sharing their stories as the nation marks the 60th anniversary.

10 days ago

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, ...

Associated Press

Israeli Cabinet approves cease-fire with Hamas; deal includes release of 50 hostages

Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a cease-fire deal with the Hamas militant group that would bring a temporary halt to a devastating war.

11 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Dierdre Woodruff

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Follow @KTAR923...

The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]



Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.

Undoing Trump rule won’t likely affect Okefenokee mine plan