As a controversial plan to strip mine near the Okefenokee Swamp awaits a permitting decision from Georgia regulators, mining opponents are pressuring two publicly-held companies to steer clear of project and its products.
Green Century Capital Management and the Felician Sisters of North America filed shareholder proposals at The Chemours Company and Sherwin-Williams asking each company to address risks associated with proposed titanium mining along the eastern boundary of the Okefenokee. That’s where Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals LLC, is seeking state environmental permits to mine a 740-acre area that comes within three miles of the Okefenokeee National Wildlife Refuge.
Green Century Capital Management is the investment advisor to the Green Century Funds, a family of environmentally responsible mutual funds. The Felician Sisters of North America are an international order of Catholic sisters that seeks to leverage societal change through shareholder advocacy.
Green Century and the Felicians filed a similar shareholder proposal in late 2021 that was partially successful. In February, 2022 Chemours pledged to refrain from doing business with Twin Pines for at least next five years. Now the religious sisters and the investment adviser are pressuring the mining company to make the commitment permanent.
Chemours, which was spun off from DuPont in 2015, manufactures and sells “performance chemicals” including titanium dioxide. Its subsidiary, Southern Ionics Minerals, mines in Georgia. It was Dupont in the late 1990s that agreed to back off from a previously proposed mine near the Okefenokee in part due to shareholder pressure.
Green Century and the Felician Sisters are focusing also on Sherwin-Williams because most titanium ore is refined into titanium dioxide to impart a durable white color to paint, paper, rubber, wallboard, and plastic, as a US Geological Survey fact sheet on titanium reports. And Sherwin-Williams is the leading paint and coating company in the world, as ranked by Statista, with 2022 revenues of over $21 billion last year.
“What’s keeping me in the fight is just the idea that the Okie can be really disturbed,” said Sister Jean Sliwinski, sustainability coordinator with the Felician Sisters of North America in a telephone interview from her home in Buffalo, NY. “And the damage could be irreversible. This is a precious resource in your area.”
Twin Pines’ president Steve Ingle shrugged off the shareholder action.
“This is of no consequence to us and will have no impact on our operations,” Ingle wrote in a prepared statement. “Demand is extremely high for the minerals we will safely extract from a small, shallow mining footprint and what other companies may decide to do with regard to purchasing those products, whether from us or elsewhere, is their business and we wish them the best.”
Unlike Chemours and Sherwin-Williams, Twin Pines isn’t publicly traded so there’s no way to put shareholder pressure on it directly.
Twin Pines seeks to strip-mine
At 438,000 acres, the Okefenokee Swamp is one of the world’s largest intact freshwater wetlands. More than 402,000 acres are protected in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the largest refuge in the eastern United States and home to hundreds of plant and animal species. The peat that lies under the Okefenokee makes it one of the largest natural carbon sinks in North America, making it important for climate stability.
Twin Pines Minerals, LLC has applied for permits to mine titanium on Trail Ridge, the swamp’s eastern hydrologic boundary. Scientists, including a leading academic hydrologist from the University of Georgia, Rhett Jackson, have warned that the mining poses dangers to the integrity of the swamp. It’s feared that changes to the swamp’s water flow could lead to drought and wildfire that could destroy wildlife habitat, damage adjacent private timberland and release significant carbon emissions.
“As we face escalating climate and biodiversity crises, disrupting the Okefenokee’s unique ecosystem with risky and unnecessary titanium mining would not only be irresponsible, but potentially catastrophic for the planet,” said Green Century President Leslie Samuelrich in a prepared statement. “Both Chemours and Sherwin-Williams should commit to permanently protecting the Okefenokee.”
Public opinion has sided with protecting the swamp as well. The Georgia EPD received more than 100,000 public comments about the proposed mine. Polling indicates that nearly 70% of Georgians want Governor Kemp to deny TPM’s permits. The Okefenokee is being nominated for inclusion on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site List.
“Pope Francis, in his encyclical, On Care For Our Common Home, states: ‘The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production,’” Sliwinski said in a prepared statement. “Mining along the edge of this resource puts too much at risk with the potential for irreversible damage to this fragile ecosystem.”
Annie Sanders, director of shareholder advocacy with Green Century, said sourcing titanium from the edge of the Okefenokee could expose Chemours and Sherwin-Williams to unnecessary climate, regulatory, legal and reputational risks.
“We filed the resolutions and are continuing to engage the companies before the annual meetings in the spring,” she said in a phone interview. “We would certainly prefer to have the companies come to the table and work constructively together to formulate the permanent commitment. And then, if not, we’ll be taking the issue to the ballot and asking shareholders to weigh in.”
Neither Chemours nor Sherwin-Williams responded to a request for comment.
The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.