Marchers make their way towards Memphis City Hall from the National Civil Rights Museum protesting the proposed Byhalia Connection Pipeline during an April demonstration. Photo by Brad Vest for MLK50.

Plains All American Pipeline is giving up its state and federal permits for the proposed Byhalia Pipeline as it continues to close out the project since the company announced July 2 it was abandoning its plans.

Patrick Parker, an attorney with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, told an administrative law judge Monday that the company asked that its state permit be revoked. Parker spoke during a status call on pipeline opponents’ appeal of TDEC’s decision to grant an aquatic resource alteration permit.

“They are going to relinquish their permit and we’re going to revoke it,” Parker told Judge Michael Begley.

Byhalia Pipeline

Learn more about the Byhalia Connection Pipeline and keep up with the latest news by following all of our coverage here.

Plains will also drop the federal permit it obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a company official said in a July 8 letter to the Memphis and Vicksburg districts of the Corps. “Due to changes in energy production post-COVID, Byhalia has determined that it will no longer pursue this pipeline construction project and respectfully requests the Army Corps of Engineers revoke the 2017 Nationwide Permit 12 verification,” said Carol E. Howard, Plains’ Senior Environmental Permitting and Compliance Specialist.

The Nationwide Permit 12 gives companies a fast-track process that requires a single federal permit for water crossings rather than individual permits for each, and does not require an environmental impact statement or notification to the public at any point in the process. 

Attorneys involved expect to complete paperwork to finalize the state permit revocation by July 30.

The Byhalia Connection Pipeline was a joint plan between Plains and Valero Energy Corporation to construct a crude oil pipeline through Southwest Memphis and North Mississippi. However, Plains abandoned the project after facing months of pushback from the community and city officials, some of whom saw the project as environmental racism and a threat to the city’s water supply. 

A week later, the company finished its business in Shelby County Circuit Court by dismissing — without the option to refile — its eminent domain cases against landowners who refused to sell the company access.

The project had secured environmental permits from the Corps and TDEC despite protests from pipeline opponents. Both agencies later explained that their respective permitting processes didn’t evaluate risks to the Memphis Sand aquifer, where the city draws its drinking water.

Memphis Community Against the Pipeline and Kathy Robinson, one of its co-founders, appealed the state permit decision in December. They expect to withdraw their appeals once the permits are revoked, they said.

Roger Allan, deputy chief of the regulatory division of the Corps, said he couldn’t comment on the request since it is a legal matter.

The revocation of the permits means if the company reintroduced plans for the pipeline, they would have to start from square one, according to George Nolan, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“Hopefully, if there’s another crude oil pipeline proposed, this Byhalia Pipeline experience will inform the conversation. And hopefully, the Corps will recognize how important it is to require individual permitting with thorough community involvement for any project,” Nolan said.

Some pipeline opponents, including Robinson, initially didn’t trust that the project was gone for good, since the company abandoned it on its own terms without legal barriers to reviving it. The removal of the permits puts Robinson at ease, she said.

“I’m so excited;, it’s like it’s really hitting me now,” Robinson said. “Even with (Plains) saying that they were canceling, I just always had that reservation of what does that really mean? But now to know that we’re actually going to see signatures that they are not going to pursue this, at least for the time being in that area — it’s a relief.”

The SELC also filed a complaint on behalf of MCAP to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claiming that TDEC violated Southwest Memphians’ civil rights by permitting a project that would disproportionately impact Black people. Amanda Garcia, director of the SELC’s Nashville office, said the complaint would no longer ask for the revocation of the permit but would continue with its request for environmental justice to be considered in all of TDEC’s future decisions.

“Our position is that claim can and should move forward and that TDEC should be considering whether a permitting decision will have disparate impacts as a matter of general practice,” Garcia said.

A Plains representative did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

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


This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

Got a story idea, a tip or feedback? Send an email to mlk50@mlk50.com.