Congressman Cohen Asks Biden Administration to Rescind Byhalia Connection Pipeline Permit

February 22, 2021
Press Release
Cites impact on historic Black neighborhoods, potentially disastrous drinking water contamination

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today 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. This pipeline cuts through historic, predominantly Black neighborhoods and crosses over the Memphis Sand Aquifer which could potentially irreparably contaminate the City of Memphis’ source of drinking water.  

The letter reads in part: 

“As you take immediate action to address the climate crisis, I write to ask your administration to direct the Army Corps of Engineers to rescind its recent verification of the use of the Nationwide Permit 12 for the proposed Byhalia crude oil pipeline that would threaten the drinking water and disrupt the property rights of predominantly Black neighborhoods in my district…  

“The proposed Byhalia Pipeline would impose yet another burden on Black neighborhoods in southwest Memphis that have, for decades, unfairly shouldered the pollution burdens of an oil refiner, and coal- and gas-fired power plants. As former Vice President Al Gore tweeted on February 20, 2021, “Building more fossil fuel pipelines is reckless and many proposed routes are racist. I stand with those opposing the Keystone, DAPL, MVP, Line 3, and Byhalia pipelines… 

“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.’”  

See the entire letter here

In support of the letter, local Memphis groups and concerned citizens shared the following statements: 

“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. “This fast-track permit removes community voices and doesn't protect our most invaluable resource -- our water -- from the dangers of this pipeline. It’s time to stop the Byhalia Pipeline and end this environmentally racist pipeline project.” 

“We don’t want to risk damaging our pristine drinking water,” said Jim Kovarik, Executive Director of Protect Our Aquifer. “If this pipeline ever has a problem, Valero and Plains All American risk contaminating the Memphis Sand Aquifer, our city’s drinking water source, with crude oil and harming Boxtown and the surrounding areas. President Biden and Vice President Harris have an opportunity to stand up for all the Memphis residents impacted by this pipeline and rescind this permit intended to fast-track the project and silence community voices. Thank you Congressman Cohen for speaking out to protect Memphis communities and our drinking water.”   

“Congressman Cohen is urging President Biden and Vice President Harris to rescind Nationwide Permit 12 and protect all those who would be impacted by this pipeline,” said Scott Banbury, Conservation Program Coordinator of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The Biden Administration has pledged to address environmental racism, and revoking this permit would show action on that promise. The Corps ignored the harm that this dangerous pipeline could cause to drinking water and it failed to consider how that harm will affect the already environmentally burdened communities it will pass through in Southwest Memphis. We can’t let this stand unchallenged.” 

Additional Background on the Byhalia Pipeline: 

Plains All American and its business partner Valero Energy Corporation propose building a high-pressure crude-oil pipeline across a drinking water aquifer in an active earthquake zone in Memphis and northern Mississippi. That aquifer provides drinking water to more than one million people.  

In early January Congressman Cohen sent a letter to the Corps of Engineers outlining his concern around the project and threats to Memphis’s drinking water and southwest Memphis communities. The Corps responded with this explanation after issuing the permit.   

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