New push for Biden to shut down construction of Byhalia Pipeline

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (NewsNation Now) — Tennessee Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen and New York Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are pushing for President Joe Biden to reevaluate and shut down construction of a pipeline slated to go through a majority-Black neighborhood in Memphis.

The Byhalia Pipeline would run through the Boxtown neighborhood of Memphis — which Cohen represents. 

The two members of Congress, and 26 of their Democratic colleagues, signed a letter to President Biden Thursday saying that “subjecting this Black community to more environmental degradation is wrong.”

It’s the second letter Cohen has sent to the White House.

“We hope by having 25 or 26 of my colleagues co-sign this letter, we’ll get maybe better, more attention than we did the last time when we sent just over our signature,” said Cohen.

The goal for these members of Congress is to do away with Army Corps of Engineers’ Permit 12 which, as they claim, is used for “avoiding public input,” as well as project-specific scrutiny of environmental harm.

Cohen says the high profile that Ocasio-Cortez brings can only help their cause.

“I certainly appreciate her support. I sought her out,” said Cohen. “She had retweeted one of my tweets about the Byhalia Pipeline. I appreciated that and I sought her out and she was willing to help.”

And others have been willing to help as well. Just last month, former Vice President Al Gore attended a Memphis rally against the pipeline. During the rally he called the project a “reckless, racist, ripoff.”

NewsNation was there in March for the rally and we asked Gore about Permit 12.

“Permit 12 has been used all over the country as a fast track,” said Gore. “You know, wink and a nod, go ahead and do what you want to do without really protecting local communities. It should be revoked.”

Sunday, however, it was Reverend William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, who brought his efforts to Memphis.

“The nation needs to know, and the community needs to know, that one pound of crude oil can contaminate 25 million gallons of groundwater,” said Barber.

Valero and Plains All American Pipeline, the companies behind the project, say the pipeline makes economic sense, is environmentally sound, and creates jobs.

But Justin J. Pearson, who co-founded Memphis Community Against the Pipeline, isn’t convinced. He maintains those companies believe they can exploit the residents.

“And who it hurts is who has always been hurting in our society,” said Pearson. “And that’s Black indigenous people of color, and low wealth people.”

While Cohen lobbies the Biden administration, he credits Pearson with keeping the attention up back home.

“He’s done a lot to get this going. He was responsible for a vice president and Reverend Barber coming to Memphis,” said Cohen. “And that will, you know, reverberate through the community and in the media.”

It’s a responsibility Pearson doesn’t take lightly.

“This is the most significant, important thing that I’ve ever been fortunate to be a part of,” said Pearson.