With votes on the proposed Byhalia Connection Pipeline set to be taken this week by the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, a weekend rally by opponents signaled their ongoing resolve to derail the project.
On Tuesday, council members are expected to consider an ordinance opposing the 49-mile crude oil pipeline that would connect two existing pipelines. The next day, Shelby County commissioners are to weigh whether to sell land to Plains All-American, which proposes to build the pipeline through a partnership with Valero.
“A reckless racist rip-off” is what former Vice President Al Gore labeled the pipeline on Saturday during a rally at Alonzo Weaver Park near Mitchell High School in southwest Memphis.
Reckless he asserted because it puts at risk clean drinking water from the aquifer for people in west Tennessee, north Mississippi, and southwest Arkansas. Racist, he said, because 64 percent of polluting facilities are located in or adjacent to “Black communities.”
Meanwhile, the developers on Monday released an open letter to Memphis residents that conveyed, in part, that partners in the venture have been listening to the residents’ concerns and working to meet expectations for 18 months.
“All the while, our commitment to treating Memphians with care, respect and consideration remains firm,” the letter read. “We take our responsibility to you very seriously and we remain dedicated to listening, gaining and maintaining your trust, and safely constructing and operating the Byhalia Connection Pipeline. Actions speak louder than words and trust is not given, it’s earned.”
The pipeline, according to the letter, “is a safe, responsible way to meet the energy needs of our country and provide a long-term benefit to Mid-South communities.”
At the weekend rally, Gore buttressed his opposition with questions.
“Why is it that cancer in southwest Memphis is four times higher than the national average?”
“Why is it that asthma in Black children is three times the rate of White children? …
“And why is it that the death rate is of Black children with asthma is so much higher than white children?”
Projects such as the Byhalia Pipeline are “racist,” Gore contended in his answer.
The “ripoff” is that if constructed the pipeline would move 17.6 million barrels a day through Memphis, the equivalent of $25 million a day, or $9 billion a year,” he said.
“People in the business community, they think of the risk-reward ratio. … They are putting the risk on Memphis and taking the reward for themselves.”
Hundreds of residents and community supporters attended the Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP) rally. Gore acknowledged the grassroots leadership and said, “This is an awakening, a stand for justice and a fight that we must win.”
A lineup of citizens fighting for their land in court, representatives from the local conservation community and elected officials – all opposed to the pipeline – preceded Gore.
Congressman Steve Cohen called Gore “the father of the modern-day environmental movement.”
MCAP co-founder Justin J. Pearson invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on coming to Memphis for the sanitation workers back in 1968:
“The movement lives or dies in Memphis,” he said.
At one point, Gore surveyed the crowd and said, “I see a lot of resistance here today.
“And if this is not enough to make the county commission and the city council make the right decision, this resistance ain’t nothing compared to what they are going to see if they try to keep going with this.”