Local Ordinance Targeting Pipeline Could Jeopardize Other Economic Development

An ordinance up for consideration before the Memphis City Council on Tuesday aimed at an oil pipeline could have long term impacts for energy delivery and economic development opportunities in the region.

Supporters of the ordinance are hoping to block the completion of the Byhalia Connection pipeline, a 49 mile line that would connect two existing crude pipelines in the area. While just seven miles of the project would be in the state of Tennessee, the project has been the repeated target of activists both in and outside of Memphis including former Vice President Al Gore, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and well-funded groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center, and the Sierra Club.

The threat of the ordinance carries well beyond the pipeline, however, and it could jeopardize economic growth in the region by placing unnecessary approval requirements on existing and future development projects. It could also pose a risk to pipeline safety by making it difficult to access existing lines (of which there are more than ten currently under the city itself) for repairs and maintenance activity.

City councils have a duty to protect the well being of its citizens and to ask rigorous questions when considering needed economic development plans. But local government’s role is not to issue blanket mandates with questionable legal standing against specific types of projects due to political beliefs, especially when those projects have received the proper approvals at the state and federal level.

This kind of ordinance, if passed, would create an unclear and unattractive environment for new and existing business in the Memphis region, and could spark a dangerous trend for activist groups vying to shut down critical energy infrastructure projects across the nation.

The Commercial Appeal reports how the effects of the ordinance extends well beyond this particular project:

“If approved, the ordinance would give city council oversight of approving construction of new infrastructure, including pipelines and subterranean storage of hazardous materials, that poses an environmental risk to the city’s drinking water.”

It’s why the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry is urging its members to speak up about the negative business environment this ordinance could lead to if passed:

“Businesses and infrastructure being built in the region already undergo extensive planning to meet local, state and federal regulations, as well as safety and environmental regulations. This ordinance places overly burdensome and legally unsupportable red tape in the way of entities hoping to establish themselves in the area, which will discourage new development.”

The project’s developers have taken extensive measures to engage with the surrounding community, including offering office hours, presenting at city meetings, and establishing a Community Advisory Panel, among other outreach. They have also gone to great lengths to ensure the protection of the Memphis Sands aquifer, including following all local, state, and federal regulations when designing the route, and working with the University of Memphis to understand the geology of the aquifer and account for it in the design process.

While Al Gore, Ocasio-Cortez and the usual group of anti-energy activists have peddled myths about the project, the Byhalia Connection developers have been squarely focused on safety and supporting the communities where the pipeline will be located. With this latest ordinance, the Memphis City Council is attempting a last-ditch effort to stop construction of the project even though it has received all the necessary state and federal permits.

This ignores the year of outreach from the Byhalia Connection team and their demonstrated commitment to the local Mississippi and Tennessee communities, and instead, puts existing energy infrastructure at risk, and threatens new economic development in the region.

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