Press Release | April 29, 2021

Groups demand state agency revoke permit for controversial Byhalia Pipeline

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Memphis Community Against Pollution (MCAP), Protect Our Aquifer, and the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, sent a letter to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) demanding the state agency immediately revoke or suspend the Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit and Section 401 Certification for the Byhalia Pipeline.

The groups have submitted a letter to TDEC that the permit must be revoked or suspended because the applicant failed to disclose information on alternative routes as required under state law during the permitting process. Specifically, the application for the Byhalia Pipeline, a joint venture between Valero Energy Corporation and Plains All American Pipeline, L.P., failed to disclose the existence of the Collierville Connection Pipeline, a crude oil pipeline that already connects the Diamond Pipeline and the Capline Pipeline—the same two pipelines proposed to be connected by the Byhalia Connection Pipeline.

Additionally, the companies failed to disclose to Tennessee regulators that the Byhalia Pipeline will plow between two wells that provides drinking water to predominantly Black neighborhoods in southwest Memphis (operated by Memphis Light, Gas and Water). These wells draw from Memphis’ drinking water source, the Memphis Sand Aquifer.

“The fact that Plains All American and Valero Energy failed to disclose that a potentially less environmentally damaging alternative exists is a critical missing piece,” said Amanda Garcia, SELC’s Tennessee Office Director. “This is extremely relevant to the department’s considerations in the permitting process, especially given that the chosen proposed route would run a new crude oil pipeline through a drinking water wellfield. We demand that the agency revoke or suspend the permit issued for the Byhalia Pipeline in order to consider these facts and make a better-informed decision about the project.”

Had the companies disclosed information about the Collierville Connection Pipeline, TDEC would have been required to evaluate it as an alternative to the construction of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline because, by using an existing pipeline, the company could potentially avoid and minimize impacts on state waters, including streams, wetlands, and groundwater.

“Byhalia Pipeline didn’t disclose that there’s an existing crude oil pipeline that could do the job that the company claims it needs to build a new pipeline to do,” said Jim Kovarik, Executive Director of Protect Our Aquifer. ” Our state government has a duty to protect the public’s right to clean water, and the state can’t fulfill that duty if permit applicants like Byhalia don’t give it all the relevant facts. Considering the threats this project would pose to local drinking water quality, we demand that TDEC revoke or suspend the permit to consider this undisclosed alternative.”

One of the significant environmental impacts of the Byhalia Pipeline is that the path will cut through the Davis Wellfield, a drinking water well field in southwest Memphis operated by Memphis Light, Gas and Water. These wells draw from Memphis’ drinking water source, the Memphis Sand Aquifer, and supply drinking water to surrounding communities and nearby businesses.

A spill from the Byhalia Pipeline could devastate this critically important drinking water source for predominantly Black communities in southwest Memphis who have been long overburdened by air pollution from industrial facilities. With high levels of pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde, the cumulative cancer risk in southwest Memphis is four times higher than the national average.

“We know that pipelines often leak, and the siting of this particular pipeline poses a serious risk to the drinking water for southwest Memphians,” said Kathy Robinson, a lead organizer of MCAP. “The route of this proposed pipeline threatens to endanger public health and deprive residents of clean drinking water. The Commissioner should exercise his authority to prevent that from ever happening.”

The proposed Byhalia Pipeline route cuts through the heart of Boxtown, a freedmen’s community established by formerly enslaved people following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Residents in the neighborhood’s zip code, 38109, are 97% Black, with an annual per-capita income of $18,000.

“Rather than considering a different route, the pipeline companies knowingly chose to inflict further environmental injustices on Black communities when choosing what they have described as ‘the path of least resistance,” said Robinson.

“As the agency tasked with enhancing the quality of life for our state’s residents and protecting our natural resources from harmful pollution, TDEC must ensure that construction on the Byhalia Pipeline does not begin before the company has lawfully obtained all required authorizations,” said Scott Banbury, Conservation Coordinator for the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. “To our knowledge, the project has not secured several required authorizations, including a permit for stormwater runoff, permission from the City of Memphis to construct a crude oil pipeline under the Shelby County development codes, and permission from the City of Memphis to cross streets. Until these other steps happen, Byhalia may not commence construction, and any discharges into or alterations of state waters would violate the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act.”

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Southern Environmental Law Center

For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

Memphis Community Against Pollution*

Memphis Community Against the Pipeline recently incorporated as a nonprofit under Memphis Community Against Pollution.

Memphis Community Against Pollution’s mission is to pursue environmental justice for Black communities in southwest Memphis, to protect the health and environment of the area, and to prevent environmental racism.

The organization will still be using the Memphis Community Against the Pipeline in its grassroots organizing efforts against the Byhalia Pipeline. www.MemphisCAP.org/

Protect Our Aquifer

The mission of Protect Our Aquifer is guardianship of our most precious resource—water. In Shelby County, this means preserving and protecting the Memphis Sand Aquifer for the benefit of present and future generations. www.ProtectOurAquifer.org

Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is the largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization in Tennessee, with more than 105,000 members and supporters across the state. The Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org/tennessee

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