It’s Wednesday, July 7, and an oil pipeline in the Southeast got canceled. 

After months and months of organizing by community activists and landowners, Byhalia Connection LLC announced it is scrapping plans to build a 49-mile crude oil pipeline through Tennessee and Mississippi. The line would have connected two existing pipelines: the Diamond and Capline pipelines. 

Byhalia, a joint company owned by subsidiaries of Plains All American Pipeline and Valero, said the cancellation is due to “lower US oil production resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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But protests against the pipeline, which began in earnest last year, quickly gained momentum and national attention. In southwest Memphis, predominantly Black neighborhoods along the proposed route organized against its development, arguing that the project jeopardized the vitality of their communities and city water supplies. The pipeline would have run through Memphis neighborhoods where the risk of cancer is already four times the national average due to heavy industry. Byhalia’s permit for the project was fast-tracked by the Army Corps of Engineers, which meant it didn’t have to conduct a full environmental impact statement. 

Memphis activists see the cancellation as the beginning of a larger battle for environmental justice for the city’s Black communities. “It’s time to make sure we’ll never have to fight this fight again,” Justin J. Pearson, founder of the grassroots Memphis Community Against the Pipeline organization, said at a gathering last week, according to nonprofit news site MLK 50: Justice Through Journalism. “And when we pass those laws, it will be an even bigger celebration.”

Zoya Teirstein

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