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Environmental groups sue over STB approval of Utah rail project

By | February 14, 2022

Suit seeks to overturn regulatory decision citing impact of crude oil to be moved by Uinta Basin Railway

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Map showing proposed rail route in Utah
Map showing proposed rail route in Utah
The planned route for the Uinta Basin Railway. The Surface Transportation Board’s apporoval of the project is being challenged in court by environmental groups. (STB Office of Environmental Analysis)

WASHINGTON — A coalition of environmental groups have sued the Surface Transportation Board, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and federal government over the STB’s approval of Utah’s Uinta Basin Railway project.

The suit filed Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by the Center for Biological Diversity and four other groups seeks review of the STB decision, as well as review of what it calls “an arbitrary and capricious biological opinion” by the Fish & Wildlife Service that was cited by the STB.

The groups say the STB ignored the environmental impact of extracting and processing the crude oil — estimated to be up to 350,000 barrels a day — which they say would added 53 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually.

“It’s appalling that the board approved this climate-killing project and deeply undermined President Biden’s commitment to address the climate emergency,” Deeda Seed, senior public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “…The board’s action completely ignored the pollution that will directly result from this filthy railway, and that’s illegal.”

The Sierra Club, Living Rivers, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and WildEarth Guardians are also plaintiffs in the suit.

“We need a full accounting of the climate cost of fossil fuel infrastructure projects like the Uinta Basin Railway,” Dan Mayhew, conservation chair for the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, said in the release.

STB spokesman Michael Booth told Reuters that the board “is extremely transparent in its decisions,” but declined to comment on the suit.

The STB granted the regulatory exemption allowing construction of the 85-mile line to connect oilfields in Western Utah to the national rail network on Dec. 15 [see “STB clears path for Uinta Basin Railway project,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 16, 2021]. Its decision said the project “is likely to produce unavoidable environmental impacts,” but that “the transportation merits of the projects outweigh the environmental impacts.”

9 thoughts on “Environmental groups sue over STB approval of Utah rail project

  1. Right. They are suing the Surface Transportation Board, the government agency that regulates railroads and railroads alone, for not preforming a full environmental review of the oil drilling project, something they have absolutely no jurisdiction over.

    Please take it up with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Wrong agency your suing.

  2. I have trouble seeing how this will be built anyway. The long-term trend is away from fossil fuels. By the time it is built, will there even be a market for it? I am not saying oil will go away completely but there reserves that are less expensive to recover.

    Regarding the agency, since the STB recently issued an approval, they are currently vulnerable. Anything to get the desired results.

    1. We will be using oil for a long long time. There is currently a worldwide energy shortage which is why there is still a huge, and increasing (outside the US) demand for coal. Many are expecting oil prices to go up another $ 100 a barrel for the next few years because existing supplies are being run down while investments for new supplies have been minimal. I’m surprised they are building a railroad instead of a pipeline since the main traffic is expected to be oil.

  3. I guess I gotta file a lawsuit against the Eagle County Regional Airport because they didn’t include the CO2 of all of the private jets coming and going and where that oil came from to create said JP1.

    And while I am at it, I will file a lawsuit against the Colorado cannabis law, because they didnt consider all the second hand smoke, the pollution from fertilizing and growing large scale quantities of cannabis.

    Using the logic the greens are proposing, you can simply include everyone and everything in the lawsuit. Everyone pollutes, therefore everyone is liable.

    Instead of going after Uinta on environmental grounds, they should be going after the economics. That is where this has the most weaknesses.

  4. Yep, we live in the day of litigation. Doesn’t matter, whoever side doesn’t get what they want simply line up the lawyers and try for death by a thousand cuts. We need a judiciary that rules in favor of the regulators who do their jobs and only rule against if their is glaring incompentenance can be shown.
    To Robert’s comment about pipeline. Agree on why a pipeline wasn’t the first choice as pipeline is by far the most economical and efficient way to move liquids. Reason a lot of the crude by rail from North Dakota went away after a short boom in traffic. Crude by rail goes away pretty quickly once pipeline capacity catches up. Can only assume that this mostly fracking territory and a needed supply of materials being injected including sand need to be brought in is my two cents..

  5. A pipeline won’t work because of the viscosity of the oil in the Uinta Basin…it’s as simple as that. This suit will probably be tossed out of court since the STB has no jurisdiction over environmental impacts of proposed freight commodities, only the railroad and route itself.

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