With Byhalia Pipeline In The Rear View, Memphis Can Focus On A Clean Energy Future

Memphis area residents have successfully defeated the Byhalia oil pipeline project, which was officially canceled by its developers on July 2.

Chris Carnevale and Pearl Eva Walker | July 9, 2021 | Energy Justice, Tennessee
Memphis has the Power Organizer, Pearl Eva Walker (bottom left) gathers with members of the Protect Our Aquifer group at a rally against the Byhalia Pipeline. Source: Pearl Eva Walker

The Byhalia pipeline was proposed to pump crude oil through Southwest Memphis to Marshall County, Mississippi, and presented a risk to the people of Memphis and the Memphis Sand Aquifer.

For many months, activists and advocates in Memphis have raised awareness about the risks that would be posed by the pipeline and built community opposition to the project. These groups included:

  • Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP),
  • Protect Our Aquifer, Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC),
  • Sierra Club Tennessee Chapter,
  • NAACP, Memphis Chapter & State Conference,
  • Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE),
  • The Climate Reality Project, and
  • Mississippi Environmental Stewards.

Together, they built the collective political will that resulted in both Memphis City Council and Shelby County taking action in opposition to the construction of the pipeline.

This political will via “People Power” as described by Justin J. Pearson, MCAP co-founder, has also garnered the support and interest of Vice President Al Gore, Rev. William Barber, MLK50, Al Jazeera, and Memphis natives Cybill Shepherd and Justin Timberlake.

One of the actions Memphis City Council took to protect the community from the impacts of the pipeline was to start the process of considering an ordinance to regulate pipelines of oil and other potentially hazardous liquids, an authority the City does not currently have a way to exercise. City Council passed the ordinance on two of three required steps and was set to take the third and final vote on July 6, but a few days in advance of the vote, on July 2, the pipeline project developers announced they were canceling the project.

The process of the pipeline being considered in recent months revealed a gap in the regulatory process that the City Council ordinance sought to address. And now that the immediate threat of the Byhalia Pipeline has passed, City Council will still consider adopting an ordinance in order to preemptively head off future threats similar to the Byhalia pipeline. City Council Member Jeff Warren announced at the City Council meeting on July 6 that he was going to stop advancing the ordinance that had already received two votes and City Council, and instead introduce an alternative ordinance to protect the Memphis aquifer to be considered at the July 20 Council meeting.

We at SACE are pleased that the Byhalia pipeline is no longer advancing, and are grateful to the Memphis activists, advocates, and elected leaders who fought the proposal. As we published earlier this year: amidst our dire need to rapidly transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, there is no place for a project like this that seeks to prolong the era of oil-based transportation by suing families in predominantly Black, low-income neighborhoods for land rights through eminent domain–families who already bear too heavy a burden from nearby sources of pollution–despite minimal public benefit and subjecting Memphis’ drinking water supply to the threat of an oil spill.

With the pipeline in the rearview mirror, Memphis can now focus on claiming the future of economic, environmental, and racial equity, bolstered by renewable energy and clean, electric transportation, free of burdensome pipelines and fossil fuel pollution.

Join our efforts to continue to advocate for affordable, equitable, and clean energy in Memphis, by signing up with our Memphis Has the Power campaign.

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Chris Carnevale
Chris is SACE’s Climate Advocacy Director. Chris joined the SACE staff in 2011 to help with building public understanding and engagement around clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Chris…
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