Victory for southwest Memphis: Byhalia pipeline is complete

In a formidable victory for Memphis, Plains All American Pipeline announced that the company was terminating the controversial Byhalia Pipeline, a 49-mile pipeline project that would have traversed several neighborhoods in southwest Memphis to transport crude oil for the purpose of ‘export.

Community groups Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP) and Protect our aquifer led the charge to rally intense community opposition to the pipeline, over concerns over threats to local drinking water and other health risks for communities in southwest Memphis who have borne the charges disproportionate environmental impact due to polluting industries.

SELC, representing MCAP, Protect Our Aquifer and the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, has fought state and federal permits for the project over the past year. SELC is also representing MCAP in litigation challenging the pipeline company’s attempt to forcibly take ownership of black landowners through lawsuits.

“The cancellation of the Byhalia pipeline is a victory for the people of southwest Memphis, for the city’s drinking water, and perhaps most monumental, it is a triumph for environmental justice,” said Amanda Garcia, Director of the SELC Tennessee office. “We’re so inspired by the people of Boxtown, Westwood and White Chapel, and the work of our amazing partners MCAP and Protect Our Aquifer, to show what is possible when a community stands together. “

The route of the pipeline is said to have passed through predominantly black communities in Memphis, including Boxtown, named after former slaves who used pieces of wood and metal from train cars to build their homes. Many black Memphians were outraged after hearing a representative linked to the project describe the decision to run the pipeline through South Memphis as a “point of least resistance. “The region has suffered several environmental damages head-on. A 2013 study identified the region as a hotspot of air pollution due to the amount of industries and sources of emissions, noting that the cumulative risk of cancer in southwestern Memphis “was four times the national average.”

In addition, the pipeline was to pass through a drinking water well field in southwest Memphis operated by Memphis Light, Gas and Water. These wells tap into the Memphis drinking water source, the Memphis sand aquifer, and provide drinking water to surrounding communities and nearby businesses. Memphis is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world that draws all of its municipal drinking water from an underground aquifer, and a spill could have devastated this critically important source of drinking water.

In response to opposition to the pipeline, Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission are considering legislation that would require local approval for siting pipelines in areas that would threaten to exacerbate existing environmental injustice or harm the city’s drinking water source.

“We urge local authorities to continue to listen to the concerns of this community and to move forward with passing these ordinances to protect Memphis from the next polluting pipeline or facility,” Garcia said. “Disconnecting the Byhalia Pipeline is an incredible victory, but this pipeline has also shown the city and the whole country how vulnerable Memphis drinking water is and how much southwest Memphis has already suffered in terms of environmental injustices. ”