Tennessee Congressman urges White House to rescind Memphis pipeline permit

Letter calls out environmental justice issues, need for public input

Congressman Steve Cohen, left, participates in a local rally organized by Memphis Community Against the Pipeline challenging the proposed Byhalia Pipeline project. (© Kyle Sullivan)

Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) wrote to President Biden urging that he direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rescind its recently issued nationwide permit to Valero Energy and All Plains American for its proposed Byhalia Connection Pipeline. The high-pressure crude oil pipeline threatens the drinking water source and property rights of historic, predominantly Black neighborhoods in southwest Memphis.

These communities have unfairly shouldered the pollution burdens of an oil refinery, wastewater treatment facility, and both coal- and gas-fired power plants for decades. The letter asks the administration 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.

“No crude oil pipelines built near an earthquake zone atop an aquifer that supplies a predominantly Black community drinking water can be safe,” said Justin J. Pearson, a lead organizer of the Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, or MCAP. “This fast-track permit removes community voices and doesn't protect our most invaluable resourceour waterfrom the dangers of this pipeline. It’s time to stop the Byhalia Pipeline and end this environmentally racist pipeline project.”

In his letter, Representative Cohen requested the administration review and reconsider the use of a fast-tracked Nationwide Permit 12 by the Corps for this project, where fast-tracking cuts requirements for public input and allows the pipeline to be placed above the drinking water source of the surrounding communities and the city of Memphis.

“The communities that this pipeline company would cut through have a right to weigh in on the impacts of this project,” said George Nolan, a senior attorney at SELC. “We applaud Congressman Cohen’s actions to alert the new administration to the Byhalia pipeline, a project that smacks of environmental racism. We hope President Biden and his administration will stand up to protect the people of Memphis and their drinking water against this risky oil pipeline.” 

In the letter Congressman Cohen stated:

“If built, the pipeline will cross a municipal wellfield that supplies drinking water to local Black residents in Memphis. The pipeline route cuts through several Black communities in southwest Memphis, including the Boxtown community, which got its name after formerly enslaved people used scraps of materials and wood from train boxcars to build homes there in the late 19th century. Southwest Memphis is already burdened by dozens of industrial facilities, and subjecting those Black communities to more environmental degradation is wrong. A land agent for the pipeline company offended many Black community members by stating that the company chose to site the pipeline in southwest Memphis because it is ‘the point of least resistance.’”  

Congressman Cohen joins, MCAP, SELC, Protect Our Aquifer, and the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club in challenging this proposed pipeline project. You can learn more about the proposal here.

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