A finger is seen pointing to a spot on a map of the proposed Byhalia Connection Pipeline in Memphis.
Samuel Hardaway points to the spot on the proposed map for the Byhalia Connection Pipeline where his family’s land is during a rally organized by Memphis Community Against the Pipeline at T.O. Fuller State Park. Hardaway’s home is further south and also very close to the proposed route. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Memphis’ U.S. Representative has asked President Joe Biden to revoke a key permit for the Byhalia Connection Pipeline.

In a letter sent Monday, Rep. Steve Cohen asked Biden to intervene in plans to construct a controversial crude oil pipeline through Southwest Memphis. The fast-track permit granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cuts the community out of the process and adds to the climate crisis, Cohen said.

Byhalia Connection Pipeline

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“The proposed Byhalia Pipeline would impose yet another burden on Black neighborhoods in southwest Memphis that have, for decades, unfairly shouldered the pollution burdens of an oil refinery, and coal- and gas-fired power plants.”

The Nationwide Permit 12 allows the developers — Byhalia Pipeline — to cross multiple bodies of water rather than seek an individual permit for each. The permit, designed to expedite infrastructure construction, requires minimal environmental impact studies and doesn’t include public comment.

Anti-pipeline campaign gains attention

Cohen’s letter comes as the anti-pipeline campaign picks up steam nationally, with social media support from Danny Glover, former Vice President Al Gore and Jane Fonda

Cohen asked Biden to require the company to undergo a different permitting process that would include both more rigorous study and public input, “to ensure that the Corps appropriately considers the concerns of the Black communities whose drinking water and property will be directly affected by the siting of this proposed crude oil pipeline…” Cohen said in the letter.

In 2019, Byhalia Pipeline — a joint venture of Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corporation — revealed its plans for the 45-mile pipeline between the Valero Memphis Refinery and a Valero facility in Marshall County, Mississippi.

The early days of Biden’s presidency included steps to address the climate crisis, which he considers an “existential threat”. On his first day in office, he revoked a presidential permit, a move that stopped construction on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Eyes on Memphis City Council

Justin J. Pearson, spokesperson for Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, appreciates Cohen’s letter but is keeping his focus on local officials, he said.

“This pipeline can be stopped right here in Memphis by the Memphis City Council and not have the letter distract away from the power that the council will have tomorrow to begin the end of this pipeline,” Pearson said.

The Memphis City Council Public Works, Solid Waste and General Services Committee will reconsider a resolution Tuesday that would condemn the pipeline and ask the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division to protect the city’s water sources by opposing the pipeline.

It’s unclear what power the Memphis City Council and MLGW have to stop the pipeline from running through Memphis.

The pipeline is routed above the Memphis Sand Aquifer and through an MLGW wellfield, which environmentalists have argued is a risk to the city’s main water source. During the resolution’s initial discussion, MLGW representatives said the company asked the utility provider for an easement.

Community set to march

MCAP will march at noon Tuesday from the National Civil Rights Museum to Memphis City Hall urging the council to approve the resolution. The resolution will be heard in the committee meeting, which begins at 12:30 p.m. View the livestream here and comments to the city council can be made here.

“The folks right here in Memphis have to realize that they have the power just as much as the President of the United States to be involved and engaged in stopping this pipeline,” Pearson said. “We can’t pass the buck anymore.”

Carrington J. Tatum is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at carrington.tatum@mlk50.com

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