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Posted on: May 13, 2021

Mayor Lee Harris' Update on Local Oil Pipeline Legislation

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This week we acknowledge a step forward in the protection of Shelby County neighborhoods and our valuable water resources from oil pipelines and the potential damage they can spawn.

On Monday, the Shelby County Commission approved in the first of three readings our proposed amendment to the Memphis and Shelby County Unified Development Code that would limit risks associated with oil companies seeking to come in and build pipelines through our county’s historic neighborhoods.

The UDC amendment puts a distance of 1,500 feet between oil pipelines and our community’s safe havens, our homes, our schools, our parks, our churches.

Last year, activists in Southwest Memphis raised the alarm about the Byhalia Connection Pipeline and the threat it poses to our neighborhoods. Later, it came to our attention that the UDC makes no mention of oil pipelines.

This ordinance amendment would change that.

We have worked closely with the Memphis & Shelby County Division of Planning and Development on these setback requirements, which received unanimous support from the Land Use Control Board.

I am in opposition to the Byhalia Connection Pipeline, a crude oil pipeline by Valero Energy Corp. and Plains All American Pipeline, a company based in Houston, Texas.

The pipeline’s proposed path takes it through historic African-American communities like Boxtown and Westwood and is an unacceptable risk to these neighborhoods. It also presents an unnecessary environmental threat to the Memphis Sand Aquifer, one of Shelby County’s most precious natural resources.

This amendment is not intended to single out the Byhalia Pipeline, instead it creates setback requirements for all pipelines, including Byhalia. 

U.S. Department of Transportation data shows that there have been more than 5,740 significant oil pipeline incidents over the past 20 years, incidents that have caused fires, explosions, contaminated environments, and resulted in injuries and deaths.

I’d like to thank Commissioners Reginald Milton, Tami Sawyer, Van Turner and Michael Whaley for the votes that kept this initiative alive.

Because this effort amends a joint ordinance, it will take some time to move through the legislative process.

Additionally, we will need three more votes to win final approval.

Please encourage our County Commissioners to approve this amendment without delay. We have drafted an email and provided their email addresses below for your convenience.

Shelby County Commissioner Emails:

Eddie.s.jones@shelbycountytn.gov; Brandon.morrison@shelbycountytn.gov;amber.mills@shelbycountytn.gov; david.bradford@shelbycountytn.gov; mick.wright@shelbycountytn.gov;mark.billingsley@shelbycountytn.gov; Michael.whaley@shelbycountytn.gov;willie.brooks@shelbycountytn.gov; tami.sawyer@shelbycountytn.gov; mickell.lowery@shelbycountytn.gov;Edmund.ford@shelbycountytn.gov; Reginald.milton@shelbycountytn.gov; van.turner@shelbycountytn.gov;officeofthemayor@shelbycountytn.gov; alex.hensley@shelbycountytn.gov

Draft email:

Commissioners:

Thank you for your standing with the community thus far to challenge the construction of oil pipelines in Memphis and Shelby County. Shelby County residents don’t currently have a say on whether or not a pipeline is built in our neighborhoodsThe County Commission has an opportunity to lead the way and give the community a say on putting oil pipelines in our backyards. With your leadership, we can prioritize our neighborhoods over multi-billion dollar corporations.

I am glad to see an ordinance before you to implement a setback requirement of 1,500 feet between oil pipelines and our schools, places of worship, parks, family recreation centers, and homes. Oil spills across our country have impacted miles of land and usually take years to clean up. Fifteen hundred feet, about a third of a mile, is the bare minimum to protect us. It's a good place to start.

I am requesting your support of setback requirements for oil pipelines for the sake of our neighborhoods and families. I am requesting your support to take this ordinance all the way to a third reading.

Thank you for your consideration.


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