Pipeline Construction in Memphis Raises Environmental Justice Issues

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Pipelines often raise environmental justice issues – a problem the incoming Biden administration will need to wrestle with given the President’s campaign promises.  The nonprofit newsroom MLK50 recently reported on the construction of a pipeline in Memphis, in which the company offered resident Joseph Owens only $3,000 to buy an easement on his one acre of land. When Owens refused, the company sued him but he could not afford to litigate. Because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had approved the pipeline, the Byhalia Connection Pipeline took the easement on Owens’ property under eminent domain and paid him $9000. He is one of at least nine landowners who stand to lose property through eminent domain in Southwest Memphis. 

Why this Matters: Eminent domain is meant to be a tool of last resort the government uses to ensure that infrastructure like roads and power lines can be built without one landowner stopping construction that benefits the community. But as we have reported, FERC has almost never disapproved a pipeline and landowners like Owens have nowhere to go to appeal. Last summer, the Trump administration made it even easier for fossil fuel companies to build pipelines by removing opportunities for public input. This rollback is especially harmful to minority communities, which have historically been excluded from planning decisions and are saddled with harmful fossil fuel infrastructure. 

EPA Nominee Brings Environmental Justice Lens

Michael Regan, Biden’s pick to lead the EPA, worked to increase environmental justice protections as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. In North Carolina, he created one of the county’s first state-level environmental justice efforts and cleaned up the coal ash that gave him asthma attacks as a child. The EPA has had an Office of Environmental Justice for nearly 30 years, but what it can actually do is limited. Grassroots organizers hope, if confirmed, that Regan will steer the agency to have a greater emphasis on environmental justice.

Pipeline also endangers water supply, public health

The long-lasting health impacts of the proposed Byhalia pipeline are devastating. The proposed pipeline would cross a city well field, threatening the water supply for Black neighborhoods. Nationally, Black people are 75% more likely to live near a polluting industrial facility, which causes a host of health issues including an increased risk of cancer. In Memphis, the Byhalia Pipeline leaders “know that they have money, they know they have power, they know they have resources to fight these folks in court,” Justin J. Pearson, spokesperson for Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, told MLK50Like the recently canceled Keystone XL pipeline, pipeline reviews at the federal level should be tougher and take environmental justice into consideration, as pipelines are often routed through poor neighborhoods to avoid wealthier suburbs.

Up Next

Biden Administration Pushed for Electric School Buses

Biden Administration Pushed for Electric School Buses

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Right now, 95% of American public school buses run on diesel fuel, but that could soon change thanks to part of the Biden administration’s massive infrastructure proposal. The new Clean Buses for Kids Program would electrify at least 20% of the country’s iconic yellow school bus fleet. It would […]

Continue Reading 452 words
Four States Sign Compact to Ban Fracking In Delaware River Basin

Four States Sign Compact to Ban Fracking In Delaware River Basin

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer In February, the governors of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware voted unanimously to ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin, but Republican-led lawsuits are seeking to stop this action. The ban prevented the natural gas industry from blasting up to 4,000 wells in the basin, serving a blow to the […]

Continue Reading 615 words
Read This: Sky’s The Limit for EVs

Read This: Sky’s The Limit for EVs

Electric vehicles are an important part of meeting climate change action goals in addition to their potential to clean up air pollution, yet Americans have traditionally been apprehensive about purchasing them. That is until now. As Ben Geman wrote for Axios  this week, “Even as gasoline-powered sales return from the pandemic, cars with plugs are […]

Continue Reading 225 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.