For Immediate Release, July 6, 2022

Contact:

Deeda Seed, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 803-9892, dseed@biologicaldiversity.org
Carly Ferro, Sierra Club, (908) 415-4587, carly.ferro@sierraclub.org
Jonny Vasic, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, (385) 707-3677, jvasic@uphe.org

Biden Administration Paves Way for Railway That Will Quadruple Oil Production in Utah’s Uinta Basin

SALT LAKE CITY— The U.S. Forest Service has rejected challenges to the Uinta Basin Railway, saying the project is in the public interest even as it predicts the oil railway could increase climate pollution in the U.S. by nearly 1%.

Tuesday’s Forest Service action directs the Ashley National Forest in Utah to approve a right-of-way for the proposed railway to go through protected roadless lands. Once the right-of-way is issued, railway construction could begin next year.

“President Biden should be doing everything in his power to respond to the climate emergency, but he’s about to light one of the nation’s biggest carbon bombs,” said Deeda Seed with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is pouring another 5 billion gallons of oil on the fire every year and bulldozing a national forest in the process. It’s a horrifying step in the wrong direction.”

The Uinta Basin Railway is expected to quadruple oil production in Utah’s Uinta Basin by linking its oil fields to national rail networks. Most of the crude will travel through the Colorado Rockies for 200 miles to Gulf Coast refineries.

The railway will spur an increase of up to 350,000 barrels a day, amounting to up to 53 million tons of annual carbon pollution — as much or more than what’s produced by the nation’s three largest power plants. Sending tens of millions of barrels of crude oil each year from Utah to the Houston area for refining would be equivalent to adding a new refinery to the region, which already exceeds national pollution standards.

Most of the railway through Ashley National Forest — 12 miles with plans for five bridges and three tunnels — would be on public lands protected by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The oil trains would increase the risk of fires and oil spills along the route through Colorado, including the vulnerable Colorado River corridor.

“This decision allows for pollutive activities to expand into an area that’s protecting an ecosystem critical to public and environmental health,” said Carly Ferro, Utah Sierra Club director. “It is an egregious decision that exacerbates climate change instead of addressing the impacts we’re feeling right here at home. We will stay resilient in the face of the increasingly devastating consequences of the climate and extinction crises by fighting this project.”

The Forest Service’s action comes just days after the U.S. Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate power plant pollution. And it follows Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s recent directive to the Forest Service “to take bold actions” to “address the climate crisis.”

“Secretary Vilsack was right to call for bold climate action but unleashing this destructive flood of oil is climate cowardice,” said Jonny Vasic, executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “This area is already facing water and air quality issues. The railway will quadruple production of oil in the Uinta Basin, resulting in dire consequences for air quality, public lands, water, public safety and the climate.”

Dozens of counties and local governments in Colorado and more than 100 conservation groups representing millions of people have urged the Forest Service to deny the right-of-way.

According to a federal environmental analysis, the 88-mile-long railway would dig up Utah streams in more than 400 places and strip bare 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat, including crucial areas that pronghorn and mule deer need to survive. In Emma Park, a remote sagebrush valley known to birdwatchers, bulldozers and train traffic could drive imperiled greater sage grouse out of their mating and nesting grounds.

In February conservation groups sued the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, saying the board violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider that extracting and processing this oil would add 53 million tons of carbon dioxide per year to the atmosphere. The lawsuit also challenges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to protect rare plants safeguarded by the Endangered Species Act that the rail line will destroy.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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