Press Release | February 10, 2021

SELC & Concerned Citizen Groups Statement in Response to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Verifying that the Byhalia Pipeline Qualifies for Nationwide Permit 12

MEMPHIS, TN—The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, Protect Our Aquifer and Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club released the following statement in response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision to verify that the Byhalia pipeline can proceed under Nationwide Permit 12. The pipeline proposed by Valero Energy Corp. and Plains All American Pipeline L.P. would cut through several Black neighborhoods and the municipal wellfield that provides their drinking water, which is drawn from the Memphis Sand Aquifer.

In its decision, the Army Corps declined to consider threats and impacts to the Memphis Sand Aquifer, and it determined that analyzing impacts to Memphis’ drinking water source is not part of the Corps’ job.  The Army Corps did acknowledge, however, that the company must still obtain land and follow local zoning ordinances before completing construction.

“The Corps decision to verify the Byhalia pipeline under Nationwide Permit 12 is deeply troubling,” said George Nolan, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “By putting a high-pressure crude oil pipeline through the Davis Well Field, the pipeline company threatens the Memphis Sand Aquifer and the communities that rely on that drinking water source. It’s outrageous that no federal or state agency is taking responsibility for looking at the risks posed to Memphis’ drinking water source by the siting of this pipeline. We disagree with the Corps and think it’s terrible that the pipeline company chose to cut the public out of the process and fast track the permit instead of being the good community partner it claims to be.”

“We are evaluating all of our options with regard to the Corps’ decision to verify the use of NWP12 for this pipeline,” said Nolan.

In early January Congressman Steve Cohen sent a letter to the Corps outlining his concern around the project and threats to the Memphis Sand Aquifer, and the Corp recently responded to him.

“Although we disagree with the Corps’ position and analysis in the letter, in the last paragraph the Corps acknowledges the important role that state and local governments have to play in protecting the Memphis Sand Aquifer from contamination sources, like this crude oil pipeline,” said Nolan.

“Local government has a powerful role to play in opposing the Byhalia Pipeline,” said Nolan. “The Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission can standup for the communities impacted by this pipeline by passing laws to protect the aquifer, declining to allow the pipeline to cross city streets and county roads, declining to sell easements to the pipeline company, and requiring the pipeline company to comply with all local planning and zoning laws.”

Nationwide Permit 12 is a controversial permit administered by the Army Corps under the Clean Water Act. It is often used by pipeline companies to fast track projects and cut out the public from the decision making process.

The following statement was released by Memphis Community Against the Pipeline:

“We're disappointed in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' decision to approve this fast-track permit that removes community voice and doesn't protect our community's most invaluable resourceour waterfrom the dangers of this pipeline,” said Justin J. Pearson, a lead organizer of MCAP. “This rushed permit, unfortunately, continues a cycle that silences the people most impacted who actually live in Memphis and drink the water. Fortunately, this work is far from over and our local leaders and MLGW have a larger role in this matter to protect our people.”

The following statement was released by Protect Our Aquifer:

“The fact remains the same: there are no protections for the Memphis Sand Aquifer in the entire limited regulatory process to permit this oil Pipeline,” said Jim Kovarik, Director of Protect Our Aquifer. “Since the Corp declined to consider threats and impacts to the Memphis Sand Aquifer, the federal agency has decided that it is not part of its job to understand impacts to Memphis drinking water source. The Corp only comments on the construction process, which does not cover what happens when the oil starts running through the Pipeline. And even further limiting their Permit #12 Review, they are only concerned where the Pipeline crosses a body of surface water.”

The following statement was released by Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club:

“This decision by the USACE flies in the face of President Biden's executive order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment issued on January 20,” said Scott Banbury, Conservation Program Coordinator of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The order directs all federal agencies to review all pending decisions based on the best available science, with a focus on reducing impacts to communities of color and low-income communities. Evidently, the Corps didn't get the President's memo.”      

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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

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