News | July 7, 2021

Executive Director’s note on the Byhalia triumph

(Steve Jones)
Executive Director Jeff Gleason

From SELC Executive Director Jeff Gleason:

This holiday weekend brought long-hoped for news: pipeline developers in Tennessee announced they were pulling the plug on the Byhalia Pipeline, a proposed pipeline that would have gone through communities across the South to transport crude oil to the Gulf Coast. The Byhalia Pipeline posed a threat to predominantly Black neighborhoods in southwest Memphis that already face disproportionate health burdens due to polluting industries, as well as to the city’s drinking water source.

I immediately thought back to last year’s Fourth of July weekend, when we learned another fossil fuel Goliath had fallen: the end of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline—an unwanted and unneeded natural gas pipeline that would have endangered multiple communities and public lands, locking our region into fossil fuels for decades to come.

The Byhalia triumph once again highlights the extraordinary outcomes communities can achieve when fighting together against unjust projects that threaten the health and wellbeing of people and our shared natural resources.

In Memphis, we saw Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP) and Protect Our Aquifer lead the charge against the Byhalia pipeline, rallying intense opposition in Memphis and throughout the country. SELC’s Tennessee team, working with many others throughout the organization, worked tirelessly with our partners to fight state and federal permits for the project and to challenge the pipeline company’s attempt to forcibly take landowners’ property through condemnation lawsuits.

Rallies in downtown Memphis, left, and, right, at Alonzo Weaver Park in the city’s Southwest, including one attended by former Vice President Al Gore, galvanized communities committed to protecting each other and their shared water resources. (Steve Jones)

As our Tennessee Office Director Amanda Garcia said, “This is a victory for the people of Southwest Memphis, for the city’s drinking water, and perhaps most monumentally, it is a triumph for environmental justice.”

Victory for Southwest Memphis: Byhalia Pipeline is done

Many Black Memphians were outraged after hearing a representative connected to the project describe the decision to route the pipeline through South Memphis as a “point of least resistance.”

But as our partner Justin J. Pearson of MCAP said after hearing news of the cancellation, “We’ve shown them that we aren’t the path of least resistance. We are the path of resilience.”

Tomorrow we will continue the important work of finding clean energy solutions that will safeguard our drinking water, protect communities, and secure our climate future. 

But today, let us all find inspiration in what is possible when a community stands together for what’s right.

This is a victory for the people of Southwest Memphis, for the city’s drinking water, and perhaps most monumentally, it is a triumph for environmental justice.

Managing Attorney Amanda Garcia, Director of SELC’s Tennessee’s Office

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, a minister and activist, was one of many high profile people to highlight the environmental injustice built into the Byhalia Pipeline proposal. He spoke at a rally, left, held in Memphis’ Alonzo Weaver Park. (Steve Jones)