YARBROUGH COLUMN: Sharing an Opinion on Cong. Carter’s no Opinion Regarding our Okefenokee

Published 10:00 am Thursday, June 6, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Dear Cong. Buddy Carter:

Your appearance a couple of weeks ago before the Water, Wildlife and Fisheries subcommittee in Washington of which you are not a member but were allowed to question a witness panel about our Okefenokee was — shall we say — a bit out of the ordinary.

According to news reports, you claimed you were not entering an opinion “one way or the other” about Twin Pines Minerals, an Alabama-based company, seeking permits from Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division to drill for titanium oxide on Trail Ridge along the eastern edge of our Okefenokee so that all mankind can be assured of an ample supply of paint, toothpaste and chewing gum. And then you proceeded to opine one way or the other all over the room about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s opposition to the project.

You said U. S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s letter to Gov. Brian Kemp was an “overreach of the Secretary’s authority and without legal basis.” Admittedly, I’m just your humble scribe, but that sure sounded like an opinion to me.

What I am trying to figure out is why? Why did you take the time to show up at the subcommittee hearing and announce that you didn’t have an opinion one way or the other on Twin Pines Minerals drilling on the edge of our Okefenokee?

Were you responding to pressure from angry citizens across our state who are saying, “Enough with that darned ol’ Okefenokee! We want paint! We want toothpaste! We want chewing gum! Drill, baby drill!”

If so, you and I must be talking to a different crowd of angry citizens. I’ve been at this column-writing business for 26 years and I don’t recall this many Georgians being this mad. You see, they think the Okefenokee belongs to all of us, not just the privileged few. They are incensed that no one is listening to them. They know when they are being talked down to, like the drivel that somehow this is a regulatory decision, not a political one. That insults their intelligence. And mine.

Last I heard, more than 77,000 people have written the Environmental Protection Division, asking them to not approve the permits. And before you ask, we aren’t talking about professional tree huggers, we are talking everyday Georgians. I am getting mail from all over the state. One reader wrote me to say he had never been to the Okefenokee until all the fuss started. He visited the place to see it first-hand and was so impressed with what he saw that he immediately wrote Gov. Kemp, asking him to intervene and stop the permitting. He got the usual “Thank you for contacting the governor, your opinions are important” bug letter, saying nothing. At least he heard from the governor. I wrote an open letter to him a month ago in this space and haven’t heard squat. Go figure.

What is confusing is why you would rail against the Interior Secretary for having a say in preserving our Okefenokee. Yes, it is located in Georgia but it is a national treasure. It attracts 700,000 visits annually and generates some $64 million for nearby communities. It is also being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park.

By the way, there is precedent for Secretary Haaland’s actions. Back in the ’90s, then-U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt intervened when DuPont was trying to do the same thing in the same place. Babbitt said, “Titanium is a common mineral, while the Okefenokee is a very uncommon swamp.” Gov. Zell Miller was convinced to pull the plug on the project. If it was a bad idea then, why is it a good idea now?

I am curious why you don’t seem to be showing as much public concern as to how the people of Georgia feel about letting an Alabama-based company come into Georgia to drill in our Okefenokee as you are in excoriating those in our federal government who seem to be trying to do what our state officials are loathe to do — listen to us.

In spite of your recent public scolding of the subcommittee panel, you claim you were entering no opinion one way or the other about what Twin Pines Minerals wants to do to our Okefenokee. But you need to know that a majority of Georgians do seem to be entering an opinion. They are vehemently opposed to the idea. There is no one way or the other about it.