Q&A from December 29, 2020 story in the AJC
On December 29, 2020, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article about our proposed mining project in Charlton County, Ga. While the reporter, Nedra Rhone, has been among the most balanced of journalists covering this story, there is still a significant amount of information that provides important perspective that was not included.
Below are the detailed responses we offered to her questions so that you may know “the rest of the story.”
Q: What is the current status of mining permits? Specifically has TP resubmitted the following: Wastewater NPDES, Surface mining permit (which was previously incomplete as of July), Air permit revised for smaller footprint.
A: We have submitted revised and complete applications for mining, groundwater withdrawal, NPDES (which covers stormwater and wastewater) and air permits to the Georgia EPD and those applications are presently being evaluated by the agency.
Q: Some organizations and agencies continue to express concerns that data provided by Twin Pines on possible impacts to Okefenokee is incomplete. What data/modeling has the company provided AFTER November 2019 to ensure that there would be no damages, now or in the future to the swamp?
A: The studies we have done are comprehensive and conclusive and detailed in our submissions to federal and state officials. Specifically, new modeling data was provided to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USCOE) and Georgia EPD in a January 14, 2020 modeling report and March 4, 2020 revised USCOE permit application. New modeling data was most recently provided as part of a submission to the Georgia EPD on November 13, 2020. Additional responses to EPD information requests are currently being prepared and will be provided to the agency in the near future.
Q: It is noteworthy that the project footprint has been revised such that it is not located in any jurisdictional wetlands.
A: The demonstration project will be thoroughly evaluated to prove that heavy minerals can be mined on the site in a way that is safe and environmentally sound. No one goes into a project of this magnitude with more skepticism than the people who put up the money. They must ensure compliance with all local, state and federal regulations to protect their investment. Thus, investors always maintain a healthy skepticism and are concerned, as much or more than anyone, that they can go from A to Z while doing the right things. From our perspective, if we were not 100% convinced of our ability to mine safely, then we would not put such a huge investment (up to $300 million) on the line.
Q: You have employed two lobbying firms. What actions have they taken to promote the mining project? Who did the lobbyists meet with? What was the result of those meetings?
A: The disinformation campaign launched by opponents before the first study was even completed created interest from elected officials. Cornerstone and Potomac South have been helpful in securing information sharing meetings with local, state and national elected officials at which time we have had to correct a lot of misinformation. All of those with whom we have met have simply been asked to have open minds and let us know if they are concerned about any aspects of the project. We have not asked any of them to do anything on our behalf and have no reason to think any have or will in the future. There is a misperception in the public that politicians can do something, or would try, but the fact is, with regard to our project the process is the process, and they can’t change it.
The other half of this that isn’t being told in the media is; opponents have much more extensive influencer programs, funded from much deeper pockets than any associated with Twin Pines, and executed by a proverbial army of people. Their monetary resources have been marshalled in a campaign against our mining proposal on the ground, in direct communications with local, state and federal officials, in mass media outreach and via hundreds of social media channels.
Q: Thousands of residents and other individuals have expressed opposition to the mine (basing this on public comments received). If the permits are approved for mining to move forward, how do you plan to address those ongoing concerns?
A: Let’s put this in perspective, when you say “thousands” have expressed opposition to the mine, it should be noted that comments come in from distant places and from many people that have never visited the area. Many are also form letters that are pre-written and can be printed signed and mailed or transmitted electronically with the click of a mouse.
It’s fair to ask; what do the locals in Charlton County think? We have a lot of support there. What do the people think that have taken the time to look at the studies, ask questions and have considered the distance the mining area is from the refuge and its elevation relative to the Okefenokee?
We have met with numerous environmental groups, have maintained an open dialogue with several and will be happy to continue that discourse. The SELC and Twin Pines have also met numerous times. We are beginning with a demonstration project to prove the technology is superior and that the Okefenokee will be unharmed. If we can’t prove that’ we’re out of business, so we have every incentive to get it right from the outset and have every intention of doing so.
Further, we will offer site tours throughout the process so anyone interested can see the mining activities first-hand. This is not a project about which we intend to be secretive or cordon off from the public.
Q: Can you describe, in general, your lobbying efforts in 2019 and 2020 on behalf of Twin Pines Minerals?
A: As is routine with large projects with strong local support, Twin Pines hired DC professionals to assist with communicating with the federal delegation. Cornerstone did a series of introductory meetings with legislative staff that handle the natural resources issues for members of the Georgia Delegation.
Q: What information did you or a CGA representative discuss with members of Sen. Perdue’s staff regarding the jurisdictional boundaries of any federal agency – specifically the EPA or the Army Corp of Engineers — with regard to the mining area proposed by Twin Pines?
A: Nedra, on this question, you seem to be following unfounded accusations by someone who is not remotely close to the project or our actions. The truth will not make good copy or substantiate where you seem to want to go. But here it is: Everything we have seen in the media the environmental advocates allege about this can be easily debunked by timelines, an honest look at the tactics the opponents are using (which involves LOTS of distortions of the facts) and common sense about what politicians will and won’t do. To be specific, the political and industry collusion accusation is common and typical when a group of people don’t have facts. In this case, opponents aren’t putting forth any science of their own and they are very afraid of Twin Pines’ scientists who have labored over this. The results are clear and compelling that mining-to-reclamation can be safely done 3 miles away from the swamp just as it has been done nearby to our site.
Twin Pines approached the application and the effort as if ALL of the land in question was jurisdictional. The DC team only learned that the land in question was NOT jurisdictional AFTER the corps visited the site and did their own analysis and inspection and then informed Twin Pines in a letter.
Q: How did any of your lobbying efforts impact the jurisdictional determination for the Twin Pines project?
A: Cornerstone’s lobbying had zero impact on the jurisdictional question about the land being wetland or not. Again, good research would tell you that the Clean Water Act regulates “navigable waters of the United States.” Over the years, the corps and regulatory norms have determined that wetlands are wetlands if they have the presence of water, the presence of hydric soils, and the presence of hydrophytic vegetation.
The corps visited the sandy, clear cut site and used their own regulatory judgment to determine that the land in question was not in any way navigable, adjacent to navigable, or in any other way jurisdictional. I highly recommend you visit the site as the corps did – or even look at the sandy site on Google Maps and you may reach the same conclusion. The hydrologist Twin Pines hired was told to get to the truth whatever it is, because the company does not want to invest $300 million in a project if the science is not sound.
Also, as you can see from the very spirited elections and runoff we are having in Georgia, every elected official has to answer to the voters for their official actions. No senator or congressman is going to try and roll over regulators and Georgia’s senators certainly did not do so. They take great pains to look at an issue like this from 360 degrees by considering: Do the local people support the project? (Yes, strongly.) Will the project bring good paying jobs? (Yes.) Is the project safe? (Clearly yes, based on the hydrology work done by the scientists.) Is the project in Georgia’s interest or in the national interest? (Yes, just Google “rare earth minerals” to learn that we can’t have satellites, electronics or a strong military without them.) Once all of those questions are asked and evaluated, the elected officials typically just follow the issues and listen to both sides. That is what the Georgia delegation will do.