Lawsuit seeks federal approval of railroad that would quadruple oil production in Utah’s Uinta Basin

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WASHINGTON — Conservation groups today sued the U.S. Surface Transportation Board challenging its approval of a new rail line designed to quadruple oil production in Utah’s Uinta Basin and send most of the crude to refineries from the Gulf Coast.

“It is appalling that the board has approved this climate-killing project and has profoundly undermined President Biden’s commitment to addressing the climate emergency,” said Deeda Seed, land campaign manager. public at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We cannot move towards a more stable climate when our government continues to light fuses on giant carbon bombs. The council’s action has completely ignored the pollution that will directly result from this dirty railroad, and that is illegal.

The groups filing today’s lawsuit, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, claim the council violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider the proposed railroad in the Uinta Basin will spur increased oil production in the Uinta Basin – estimated at an additional 350,000 barrels per day – and transport up to 10 two-mile-long oil trains per day through the Rocky Mountains from Colorado to the Gulf Coast.

The council ignored the fact that extracting and processing this oil would add 53 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year to the atmosphere, contradicting its December conclusion that the railway is in the best interest public.

“We need a full accounting of the climate cost of fossil fuel infrastructure projects like the Uinta Basin Railroad,” said Dan Mayhew, conservation president for the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club. . “Millions of public dollars that could fund social programs and municipal services instead benefit a few fossil fuel extraction companies, with no accountability to the local community. The people of Utah deserve to be held accountable and to have proper analysis of the impact on our climate and our communities. »

In 2020, conservation groups sued a Utah state agency for improperly diverting nearly $28 million in state funds from community projects to help the Oil Railroad. This lawsuit is pending in the Utah District Court.

In addition to climate damage, the railway will damage public lands, rare plants and wildlife habitat. According to a federal environmental scan, the 88-mile-long railroad would carve more than 400 Utah streams and expose 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat, including crucial areas needed by pronghorn and mule deer to survive. In Emma Park, a secluded sagebrush valley known to birdwatchers, bulldozers, and rail traffic may drive endangered sage-grouse from their mating and nesting grounds.

Today’s lawsuit also challenges the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to protect rare plants protected under the Endangered Species Act that the rail line will destroy.

“If there was ever a project to abandon, this is it,” said John Weisheit, conservation director for Living Rivers in Moab, Utah. “Imagine all the expense and consumption to perform deep, horizontal drilling techniques, to bring waxy crude to the surface. Then to transport that crude over sensitive landscapes and then process it at remote coastal refineries. And then ship all that oil to transoceanic markets. All of this, at every step, creates more climate disruption for our living communities. »

Almost all of the railroad through Utah’s Ashley National Forest — 12 miles with plans for five bridges and three tunnels — would be on public land protected by the roadless zone conservation rule. Oil trains would increase the risk of fires and oil spills along the route through Colorado, including the vulnerable Colorado River Corridor. Increased fossil fuel production in the Uinta Basin would likely increase smog in western Colorado.

“The Uinta Basin Railroad project would harm all Utahans, as well as communities across the country and around the world,” said Jonny Vasic, executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “The railroad would roughly quadruple oil production in the Uinta Basin, with dire consequences for air quality, public health, water use and quality, public safety and climate change.”

“The Uinta Basin Oil Railroad promises only economic and environmental ruin,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “It will further fuel air and climate pollution, endanger drinking water and undermine our transition to a clean and sustainable energy economy. While this may line the pockets of fossil fuel industry executives, it will leave Utahns and many others to bear the cost.

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