What’re you doing in my swamp?

Every year, around 500,000 people come to visit Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp and Wildlife Refuge. There, they can see thousands of species of both flora and fauna. Roughly, 600 plant species, around 200 aviary species and 50 reptilian species. The most abundant resource there, however, is what makes up the swamp itself, peat. It is currently under threat from a mining company called Twin Pines Minerals, LLC.

Peat is an organic soil that is natural to shallow wetlands like the Okefenokee swamp, forming from the continued decomposition of plant matter. The peat in the swamp is rich in carbon, which is both good and bad for the environment under certain conditions. Right now, Twin Pines has an ongoing operation to try and mine titanium and zirconium from below the surface of the swamp. This has caused some controversy as the amount of carbon in the peat is so vast, that it could accelerate climate change to an extent if the mining is not done carefully.

Other variables that could go wrong during the mining operation, if approved, include increased fires, decreased water levels, both to the Okefenokee and the multiple rivers it feeds into, poor air and water quality and increased frequencies of droughts. Multiple ecologists and hydrologists have given their opinion on the matter.

“You’re drawing out a million gallons of groundwater a day,” “How can you say you’re going to do no harm?” – Dr. Amy Rosemond Aquatic Ecologist

Georgia State Representative, Darlene Taylor of Thomasville

Twin Pines aren’t the only people who have tried to drill in or near the wildlife refuge before. Many companies have been trying since the early nineties. Twin Pines is just the first one to have their permit considered by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, despite the many lawsuits they’ve had against them in the past.

State Representative, Darlene Taylor of Thomasville, had previously introduced bills to try and help preserve and protect the swamp from similar companies, but they never made it off the committee floor. Recently though, Taylor introduced the Okefenokee Protection Act, or House Bill 71, which has garnered bipartisan support. This bill states that it would prohibit the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division from issuing, modifying or renewing permits or accepting bonds to conduct surface mining operations on the Okefenokee Swamp’s Trail Ridge. This bill’s prohibitions on mining companies would take place after July 1.

House bill 71 aims to limit Twin Pines attempts at surface mining for titanium and zyrconium. While it does limit what can be done, any active permits the mining company has will not be stopped, and they may still continue with them.

Taylors proposed bill did not pass the chamber of commerce by the March 6 deadline. This bill seems to have gained enough support to be able to become law when proposed again. The representative is also aware that while allowing Twin Pines to operate on their permit, it would create jobs for an area of Georgia that has very little job availability. However, to her, preserving our environment is much more important, and will help more people in the long run. The swamp is already provides around 700 jobs per year.