Water and Wetlands

The True Cost of Mining

South Carolina’s natural environment and the health of human and wildlife communities that it supports are threatened by land use decisions every day. On the issue of mining, we see and feel the increased need for lawyers willing and able to stand up for the wild side.
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What is the problem?

Across the state, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has permitted over 500 active mine permits for sand, clay, gold, granite, limestone, sericite, shale and vermiculite, and a number of those mines have violated their permit terms.

Our work is not over until our environment is no longer under attack from destructive practices and we achieve a better balance between short-term, private interests and the public’s long-term welfare. 

In close partnership with community members and conservation organizations, we have made tremendous progress on mining issues around the state. In 2021 alone, we protected the irreplaceable Gullah/Geechee culture and sensitive environment by thwarting a proposed sand mine on Daufuskie Island. We testified before DHEC to deny permits to mine sand directly abutting the Francis Beidler Forest that would discharge into the valuable Four Holes Swamp. We asked DHEC to deny a 100-year granite mine in Fairfield County situated close to the community’s public water supply. We assisted the Huger community to secure concessions that will enable the restoration and expansion of a community park along Cainhoy Road in Charleston. In Horry County, we pressured DHEC to re-evaluate a permit for a sand mine abutting the Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve where federally endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers exist.

The work ahead

Yet the existing regulatory system overseeing mining activities has serious deficiencies. In 2018, King Tract, LLC filed an application to expand its existing sand mine in Awendaw, a town with a total area of less than 10 square miles. The plan proposed a nearly 1,000-acre, multi-stage mine that would discharge into the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. This parcel of land provides connectivity between the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and the Francis Marion National Forest, and is a crucial conservation link for our changing climate. DHEC ultimately issued the mine permit, even while identifying the mine’s previous wastewater discharge violations and lack of discharge monitoring reports over a three-year period. We challenged the permit before the South Carolina Mining Council in 2021, which upheld the permit despite the testimony from two state senators. While its decision was disappointing, we continue to fight towards the ultimate goal of permanent protection for this unique parcel. 

King Tract is one sand mine. After all, sand is the planet’s most mined material. The Charleston metropolitan area alone has roughly 100 sand mines.

Mining destroys habitats, degrades rivers, razes forests and burdens communities with pollution, traffic and infrastructure costs. The impact on life-sustaining natural systems can be devastating, especially when an already lax set of controls and regulations is ignored or violated with increasing frequency and impunity. 

How you can help

Particularly, but not exclusively on mining, existing laws and policies fail to account for the long-term consequences of environmental degradation and community harm resulting from mining operations. To help our state make one small but important step in the right direction, we support H.3892, a bill that would prohibit DHEC from issuing any permits for mines within two miles of a protected natural area.

If this bill were the law, the King Tract could never be mined because it sits between the Francis Marion and Cape Romain, not to mention numerous other mines proposed in sensitive areas like Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve, public parks and other recreational areas. 

From protecting special places to ensuring mining companies respect the communities they operate in, our work and your support is needed more than ever.

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