Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 8, 2022


Deeda Seed, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 803-9892,
Carly Ferro, Sierra Club, (908) 415-4587,
Jonny Vasic, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, (385) 707-3677,
John Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435) 260-2590,

Federal Lawsuit Challenges Forest Service OK of Oil Railway Right-of-Way

Railway Will Quintuple Oil Production in Utah's Uinta Basin

WASHINGTON— Conservation groups sued the U.S. Forest Service today to challenge the agency’s approval of construction of an oil railway through a protected roadless area of the Ashley National Forest in Utah.

The Uinta Basin Railway is expected to nearly quintuple oil production in Utah’s Uinta Basin by linking its oilfields to national rail networks, producing as much carbon pollution as the nation’s three largest power plants. Most of the crude will travel through the Colorado Rockies for 200 miles to Gulf Coast refineries.

“President Biden has acknowledged we’re in a climate emergency, but his Forest Service just dismissed this staggering amount of new oil production as insignificant,” said Deeda Seed with the Center for Biological Diversity. “That’s climate denial, it ignores the best available science, and it has to be challenged in court. The planet is roasting in record heat, forest fires are raging, the Great Salt Lake is drying up, and yet the Forest Service is willing to make all these problems worse by paving the way for more oil production.”

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, says the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider potential harm to the climate. The proposed railway will spur increased oil production in the Uinta Basin, estimated at as much as an additional 14.7 million gallons a day, which amounts to up to 53 million tons of carbon pollution a year.

The lawsuit also challenges the Forest Service’s failure to protect rare plants safeguarded by the Endangered Species Act that the rail line will destroy. Twelve miles of the railway will run through Ashley National Forest on public lands protected by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

“It is disappointing to see continued inaction on climate perpetuated by the very agencies with mandates to care for land and serve people. Allowing this project to move forward lacks common sense and will leave communities vulnerable to dire consequences,” said Carly Ferro, Utah Sierra Club director. “The way we manage lands can help us foster healthy communities, increase access to the outdoors for all, protect critical habitat, and stabilize the climate — or it can put us on track for climate catastrophe. This decision steers us in the wrong direction.”

According to a federal environmental analysis, the 88-mile-long railway will 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.

“The Uinta Basin has been turned into a wasteland and now they want to develop a protected national forest roadless area,” said John Weisheit of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “Is there nothing left that the oil and gas industry can’t mangle and destroy? The Forest Service is abdicating its responsibility to safeguard our wild places, but we’re hopeful the court will force them to do so.”

In June Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a directive to the Forest Service “to take bold actions” to “address the climate crisis.” The Forest Service’s approval of the railway ignored this directive, and Vilsack failed to use his authority to override that decision.

“Secretary Vilsack was right to call for bold climate action, but then he completely disregarded the urgent need to address the climate crisis and to protect this beautiful forest,” said Jonny Vasic, executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “Once again the public’s health and the environment take a back seat to business as usual for the oil and gas industry.”

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.

Today’s lawsuit is the second filed by the groups challenging the oil train. In February conservation groups sued the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, saying the board’s approval of the railway 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 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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