Advocates call on Chemours to vow never to operate titanium mine near Okefenokee Swamp

·4 min read
Paddlers in the Okefenokee.
Paddlers in the Okefenokee.

An environmental-minded investment company has asked the shareholders of one of the nation's largest chemical companies to vow never to operate or profit from a proposed titanium mine next to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Charlton County, Georgia.

Green Century Capital Management, a mutual fund aimed at investing in green and clean energy companies, filed a shareholder resolution proposal with Chemours, a former DuPont subsidiary that is the only titanium miner in the country. The $5.4 billion chemical company did not return a phone call requesting comment Thursday.

The resolution came after Green Century "discovered evidence" that Chemours is looking into buying Twin Pines Materials, LLC, the company pursuing up to 12,000 acres in order to build a titanium mine beside the refuge, which contains one of the world's largest freshwater wetlands.

"Scientists with the federal government have raised concerns that this mining project would lower the swamp’s water level, causing serious damage to the ecology and wildlife habitat," states the Nov. 11 press release from Green Century. "This excavation would also dry out the swamp’s peat beds to greater depths, promoting the spread of catastrophic fire, which would release enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."

Paddlers in the Okefenokee.
Paddlers in the Okefenokee.

Excess amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere make it more volatile, which leads to more severe weather events and global heating. “As we face escalating climate and biodiversity crises, disrupting the Okefenokee’s unique ecosystem and the millions of tons of carbon stored there for a risky and unnecessary mining project is unthinkable,” Green Century President Leslie Samuelrich stated in the press release.

Steve Ingle, president and CEO of Twin Pines, said the company is not beholden to the green-minded company.

"Like Chemours, we have no connection whatsoever to Green Century Capital Management and their shareholder resolution has no impact on our plans," Ingle said in a prepared email statement. "We are answerable to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, which will make a determination based on the facts and science of our application, not the opinions of shareholders in a Portland, Maine-based mutual fund."

Green Century is headquartered in Boston, MA.

Green Century has successfully used a shareholder resolution proposal to obtain agreements from large companies before, according to spokesperson Thomas Peterson. He added that they've previously obtained promises from Chemours not to become involved in the efforts to mine near Okefenokee, but it wasn't a permanent vow.

"We have written to Chemours, and they have given some clarification about their position, but they have not committed to never mining the swamp or purchasing titanium mines near there, which was really the ask that we're looking for," Peterson said. "for assurance that this critical ecosystem be protected."

Water lilies grow abundantly in Okefenokee Swamp.
Water lilies grow abundantly in Okefenokee Swamp.

Twin Pines wants to mine titanium on a "relic sand dune" called Trail Ridge, which is a natural dam for the swamp. The company is awaiting five permits from the Georgia Department of Environmental Protection to proceed.

Titanium is used in several manufactured products, including golf clubs, watches, aerospace parts and engines. The process of mining titanium ore uses chlorine and strips the habitat of vegetation, as well as uses vast amounts of water, according to a 2002 article published in Marine Georesources & Geotechnology Journal.

Twin Pines has published several articles on its website decrying environmental activists' objections to the proposed mine, which Twin Pines says will be 582 acres and run-off will not drain into the nearly 500,000-acre swamp. The company has no listed phone number, and an online message requesting comment was not immediately returned.

"While we have made every effort to set the record straight, they continue to publish blatant lies, hoping people will follow them without doing their own research or using their analytical skills to determine the truth," a March 2021 press release from the company reads.

A paddle at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
A paddle at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

DuPont, which Chemours was part of until 2015, tried to open a titanium mine along the swamp's eastern boundary in the 1990s. A coalition of conservationists were able to block the project. Several years later, DuPont donated the land next to the swamp they'd acquired, vowing to never mine in the area. Green Century said Chemours, as the corporate successor to DuPont, is tied to that pledge.

Thousands of Georgians, as well as national figures, have spoken out in opposition of the mine.

Green Century's announcement comes on the heels of a federal court ruling to overturn a Trump-era environmental rule around developing facilities on wetlands.

Zoe covers growth and how it impacts communities in the Savannah area. Find her at znicholson@gannett.com, @zoenicholson_ on Twitter, and @zoenicholsonreporter on Instagram.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Former DuPont subsidiary possibly eyeing titanium mine near Okefenokee

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