People protesting the Byhalia Pipeline watch a Feb. 23 Memphis City Council meeting when the council put a resolution against the pipeline on hold until March 16. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Former Vice President Al Gore will be in Memphis Sunday to speak at a rally against the Byhalia Connection Pipeline at Mitchell High School.

The “Park and Protest Rally,” hosted by Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, will begin at 3 p.m. at the school located at 658 W. Mitchell Road. The Memphis and Mid-South chapter of Gore’s environmentalist organization, The Climate Reality Project, announced the event in a Monday newsletter.

Byhalia Connection Pipeline

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Gore is one of the highest-profile names to oppose the controversial crude oil pipeline proposed to run through predominantly Black Southwest Memphis neighborhoods. Last month he called the proposed pipeline “reckless” and “racist” in a tweet. He is among several influential people and celebrities outside of Memphis asking local authorities to stop the pipeline.

Gore has long been interested in environmental issues, and since leaving office in 2001, has been devoted to tackling climate change. His 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” won two Oscars, and in 2007, he received a Nobel Prize for his work on global warming.

“We are very excited that he accepted our invitation to come and (we) just couldn’t be more ecstatic that he is going to help elevate the voices of our community as we rally against the pipeline,” Justin J. Person, spokesperson for MCAP, said Tuesday.

Gore has worked on other environmental issues with another influential supporter of Southwest Memphis’ fight — Rev. Dr. William Barber II, who co-leads the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival.

Last year, the two and their organizations rallied around residents of Union Hill, a Black community in Virginia that fought to keep a piece of the now-cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline out of their community. Formerly enslaved people built Union Hill, just like Boxtown, one of several Black Memphis neighborhoods along the proposed route of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline.

Byhalia Pipeline — a joint venture of Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corporation — revealed its plans for the Byhalia Connection Pipeline in 2019. The proposal is for a 49-mile route between the Valero Memphis Refinery and a Valero facility in Marshall County, Mississippi.

Commissioners, committee to consider measures

The rally comes as a cluster of pipeline-related measures are being considered by local government bodies. A Memphis City Council committee will consider an ordinance and a resolution March 16 opposing the project.

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners will consider resolutions March 17 to lift a moratorium on tax-delinquent land sales in South Memphis and sell two parcels to Byhalia Pipeline. 

At the state level, Senate Bill 1492 filed late last month by Sen. Raumesh Akbari would require local authorities to conduct more comprehensive environmental studies before approving large utility projects and to enhance monitoring for the aquifer. Also, Akbari and State Rep. Barbara Cooper filed Senate Bill 1421 to reform eminent domain law.

“Homeowners don’t have the resources to fight a court battle with a giant company so the law should give small property owners stronger legal footing to protect their investments,” Akbari said in a statement.

The pipeline battle also is being fought in court. A judge will hear arguments March 19 on whether MCAP may become a party to eminent domain cases Byhalia Pipeline brought against Memphis landowners. If Judge Felicia Corbin-Johnson — who presides over Division 1 of the Shelby County Circuit Court — allows MCAP to join, the organization would include arguments of broader community and environmental impacts.

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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