– Jan. 4, 2023-

Water and the Okefenokee

Late last week the Biden administration announced it’s reverting its regulations about wetlands, streams and other water bodies back to their more protective pre-2015 status. At first glance that sounds like a call for greater scrutiny of a mining project near the Okefenokee. But the EPA has made it clear it’s not going to intervene in situations like that one, where the previously relaxed regulations have already allowed the process to move forward without a federal permit.

“It is a situation that we have found absurd,” Senior Attorney Kelly Moser of the Southern Environmental Law Center told The Current.

However, Moser said the new regulations could bolster SELC’s arguments in a case brought by environmental groups suing the U.S. Army Corps to force it to reconsider its decision to allow hundreds of acres of wetlands on the mining site to be altered without a federal permit.

As Twin Pines Minerals awaits permitting decisions from Georgia regulators, efforts are underway again in the state legislature to increase protection of the Okefenokee by restricting mining on the nearby Trail Ridge, an ancient barrier island complex that geologists say acts as a dam for the world famous blackwater swamp.

Ultimately, the courts will shape how the water regulations work. Two federal court decisions have already set aside the Trump-era rules. A Supreme Court decision in Sackett v. EPA, the latest case wrangling over the definition of “waters of the U.S.” is expected in June.

The Okefenokee is the largest wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi. Credit: Photo courtesy office of Sen. Jon Ossoff

Focus on Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island National Seashore is poised to get a little bigger and a lot busier.

First, the growth in size. An earmark secured by U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter and U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff in the omnibus bill provides $8.7 million to buy land to expand the Cumberland Island National Seashore by about 174 acres. The land, which cuts across the middle of the island, is owned by The Nature Conservancy but already managed by the National Park Service. The change is ownership should be invisible to visitors.

Now, about those visitors. There could soon be more of them every day. The National Park Service is proposing to double the number of visitors allowed on the island from the current 300 a day to 600 a day, as Capitol Beat’s Dave Williams reports. Long-time Cumberland supporters like Carol Ruckdeschel, a biologist and environmental activist who has lived on the island for decades, aren’t keen on the plan. She calls it a “disaster for the island.” The public comment period on the plan ended Dec. 30. The National Park Service is expected to release its final decision in the summer.

Camden County
Cumberland Island National Seashore sign at the waterfront pavilion Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

183 reasons to cheer

Environmental news can be heavy going. That makes it an even greater joy to see that many of the “183 ways the world got better in 2022” compiled by the staff of Reasons to Be Cheerful are environmentally focused. They range from increases in renewable energy around the world to innovative initiatives to restore natural resources. Check out the story for the entire list, but here are a few of our faves:

The hides of lionfish, an invasive species that lives off the coast of Georgia and elsewhere, are being used to make jackets — each lionfish hunt can save up to 70,000 native fish

When a small electrical current is passed through seawater, it causes coral reefs to grow five centimeters per year — up to ten times faster than coral grows naturally.

After nearly vanishing in the mid 20th century, there are now over 8,140 farmers markets in the US.

A lionfish Credit: Paula Whitfield; NOAA, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research

If you have feedback, questions, concerns, or just like what you see, let us know at thecurrentga@gmail.com.

Restored wetlands protections may not prevent mining near the Okefenokee

The regulatory definition of “waters of the U.S.” is reset, but it may not raise the bar on protections for the Okefenokee.

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Preservationists warn new Cumberland Island visitation plan would ruin pristine seashore

Revisions to the management plan for Cumberland island national Seashore spark debate.

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The Year in Cheer

Happy New Year! And welcome to our annual year-end roundup of the brightest, boldest ways the world improved, evolved or otherwise changed for the better. It’s a randomized bingo-ball tumbler of a list, pulled straight from the pages of RTBC, and we hope it brings you some cheer as we leap into 2023 together. Let’s […]

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General Assembly to renew debate over mining near the Okefenokee

A South Georgia lawmaker is preparing again to stop an Alabama-based company from mining titanium near the Okefenokee Swamp.

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