Declaring Victory in the Byhalia Connection Pipeline Fight
This week, we celebrated a major victory when the company proposing an oil pipeline through historic neighborhoods and over the Memphis Sand Aquifer in southwest Memphis decided to abandon the project. It was a huge win for a grassroots community organizing effort that brought national attention to an issue of environmental and racial justice. As the newly appointed Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have been on a fact-finding trip and attending meetings with European parliamentarians on issues important to the security and cooperation of our countries this week. I also was pleased to see the Secretary of Defense permit U.S. Naval Academy graduate Cameron Kinley to pursue his career as both an NFL athlete and Naval officer, reversing an earlier decision. I also announced some significant grants to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and offered a health tip.
Declaring Victory in the Byhalia Connection Pipeline Fight
Fact-finding as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission
Congratulating Cameron Kinley on Defense Department Decision
Announcing Major Grants to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Weekly Health Tip
Quote of the Week
Last Friday night, news broke that the company proposing an oil pipeline through southwest Memphis and over the Memphis Sand Aquifer that supplies our drinking water had abandoned the project. This was a fight that galvanized our city and brought national attention to an issue of racial and environmental injustice. It is a huge victory for everyone involved in the grassroots organizing effort including Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP), Protect Our Aquifer, Justin Pearson, Kizzy Dunlap Jones, Kathy Robinson and City Councilman Jeff Warren, among many others. I’m proud to have intervened early on with letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and President Biden. I thank the Reverend William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign and former Vice President Al Gore for helping shine a bright national spotlight on the issue when they visited Memphis to participate in rallies. See my press statement on the victory here. We won. Congratulations.
Congressman Cohen met Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas
Last week, I was named Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the Helsinki Commission, by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Last Saturday, I left on a bi-partisan, bi-cameral mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation annual meeting in Vienna. Helsinki Commission members help formulate foreign policy toward Europe and engage in activities to promote democracy and human rights. I have been a member of the Helsinki Commission for more than a decade, and it is an honor to represent our country overseas, particularly in my new leadership role.
Joined by Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas and five other members of Congress, we began in Vienna, attending sessions of the annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In Tuesday’s OSCE Plenary session, I voted on important matters regarding Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, including Senator Cardin’s urgency item on “Addressing the rise in hate, intolerance, violence and discrimination across the OSCE region,” which I was happy to see adopted by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA). The Plenary session also adopted other crucial measures to counter Russian aggression in the OSCE region and to promote the protection of human rights and democracy in Europe.
We then traveled to Estonia, where I met the new Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, toured the country’s border with Russia, and relayed our support for Estonia since commitment to the NATO collective defense pact is essential for Estonian security. I am now in Sofia, Bulgaria, part of the first delegation of Americans to visit this country in many years. Bulgaria and the Tennessee National Guard have a sister country relationship, so I will be meeting with the Tennessee National Guard troops stationed here and discussing their work and ways to help the Bulgarian armed forces. I am also attending the Three Seas Summit and Business Forum. (The three seas: the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic).
These trips allow us to learn about human rights issues in the region and help us establish relationships that prove useful in understanding our country’s role in promoting our shared values in Europe, especially in these times of Russian aggression. For instance, in Bulgaria I met with Radio Free Europe and learned about discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community and the Roma people. These were two of their major concerns. We also met with a group of Roma to learn about their circumstances here and across Europe. Additionally, we visited a Sephardic synagogue rebuilt in 1909 with an active congregation and examined a history of antisemitism. Bulgaria saved nearly 50,000 Jewish citizens during World War II but, as a German ally, it deported 11,000 Jewish residents from nearby countries they controlled to Treblinka, where they were ultimately killed. While Bulgarians have been honored and recognized in Israel for the treatment of their Jewish citizens during World War II, they have not quite accepted their cooperation with the Nazis and the deportation of 11,000 Jewish residents. We see the same in Poland, where many brave Polish citizens under Nazi occupation helped protect Jews while others were Nazi sympathizers or took advantage of the situation to claim Jewish property after turning Jews over to the Nazis. While I was here, I questioned the Polish President Andrej Duda about Holocaust victims’ appropriated property and the need to honor heirs’ requests for restitution.
As Co-Chair of the Helsinki Commission, I am examining and advocating for human and civil rights and establishing and furthering important relationships in the European theater. I look forward to working with Helsinki Commission members and staff to improve human rights and protect democracy.
This monument is on the Narva River, the border between Estonia and Russia. It honors the Soviet soldiers who drove out the Nazis. Beside the monument, a plaque noted Estonia gained independence from Russia in 1991 and the final Russian troops left in 1994.
Cameron Kinley was a standout at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis and a true leader at the U.S. Naval Academy from which he graduated this Spring. He dreamed of playing in the NFL and sought to defer his U.S. Navy service obligation before he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I supported his effort by sending a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on June 8 after his initial request to defer his service obligation was turned down. I was pleased to see that decision reversed this week, and I wish Cameron every success in both his football and Naval careers.
This week, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital received grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) totaling more than $2.1 million for complex studies that will ultimately save lives. See my releases on the grants here and here.
Public health officials are concerned that coronavirus cases are climbing in places where vaccination rates are low, which includes parts of Memphis. The increase in cases is due in part to a surge in the Delta variant of the virus which is highly transmissible and has become the dominant strain in much of the country. I join President Biden and others in imploring everyone to get the vaccine.
Vaccines are currently available for everyone 12 and older. If you need a ride to a vaccination site, you can call 901-RIDE901 (901-743-3901) to coordinate the best transportation option for you. The City of Memphis is also now coordinating with organizations, congregations, community groups, and businesses to host COVID-19 vaccinations. To find the latest information about vaccination sites, to request a vaccination appointment for a homebound individual, or to set up a community COVID vaccination event, visit https://covid19.memphistn.gov/.
“We were small people fighting this billionaire company. A lot of people thought we couldn’t do it. We wanted to protect our aquifer, but we also wanted to stop environmental racism in the southwest Memphis community. It’s the classic story of David and Goliath, and you know who won that.” – Memphis Community Against the Pipeline Co-founder Kizzy Jones.
As always, I remain.
Member of Congress