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Speaking Truth to Power and Pipelines in Tennessee

Climate Reality Leaders stand up to protect Tennessee communities and democracy from pipelines.


It was Round Two – or maybe 200 – in the ongoing battle of the People vs Pipelines.

This spring, Tennessee lawmakers rewrote an innocuous bill (SB2077 in the state Senate and HB 2246 in the state House) to study energy infrastructure to effectively prevent local communities from having any say in pipelines and other gas and oil facilities built in their back yard.

Along with the assault on basic notions of democracy and community control, the bill felt like a huge slap in the face to activists like Memphis Community Against Pollution (MCAP), one of the key groups in organizing Memphis residents last year to stop the proposed Byhalia pipeline.

Along with citizens and activists from all over the state, members of Climate Reality’s Memphis and Nashville chapters showed up to Tennessee State Legislature meetings to speak out against the bill. Two of these chapter members – Allison Stillman and Paul Klein – waited for an incredible five hours to have their say.

Climate Reality chapter activists Allison Stillman and Paul Klein with MCAP Co-Founder Justin J. Pearson
Climate Reality chapter activists Allison Stillman and Paul Klein with MCAP Co-Founder Justin J. Pearson


When they did, they made sure to make their testimony count. As Allison described it:

“I spoke about this bill taking away my freedom to choose, my rights as a property and business owner, and reminded them that they were elected by people like me to protect my interests, not outside interests. While we didn’t get the desired vote again, we made a difference – and change happens in working together in coalition with multiple groups. The dream is to one day create a world where we put people above profits. People power is the way forward!”

Paul Klein of the Memphis and Mid-South chapter also made the cut to speak up.

 “This was my first in-person experience with the Tennessee State Legislature. I had to make three trips from Memphis to Nashville over three weeks simply trying to give them my three-minute testimony! I soon came to realize that these delays were happening by deliberate design on the part of the sponsors of this bill, who seemed to be trying to get us to give up and go home.”

Although the vote went right along party lines, Paul and his fellow activists still have a positive outlook.

“We’re counting it as a win because as the email inboxes filled, public pressure increased and the outcry became more widespread and made news headlines-the bill’s sponsors literally scrambled to add a few amendments that were meant to appease the opponents of the bill by adding in some key protections.

“My advice to other activists is: know your audience if you plan to speak. Try to speak your truth to their power in a way that is relatable and not too antagonistic. But be firm and confident that you are on the right side of history on the issue. Whenever possible, try to personally meet and cultivate relationships with your legislators. I would also like to encourage all of our members to network, and to build a coalition with other local environmental groups who are concerned about similar issues. We had folks from more than a half dozen different environmental groups all sitting together in the House chambers-a truly formidable force for good!”

We’re grateful to work with committed activists like Allison and Paul, who are willing to speak up when it matters, even when the odds are against them.

Tennesseans can still join Allison and Paul in speaking up to oppose this dangerous bill. Take action and tell Governor Lee to protect the rights of Tennesseans to have a voice in what happens in their communities and veto the bill today.