For Immediate Release, August 4, 2020

Contact:

Wendy Park, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7138, wpark@biologicaldiversity.org
John Weisheit, Living Rivers, (435) 260-2590, john@livingrivers.org

Lawsuit Challenges Nearly $28 Million in Public Funding for Utah Oil Railway

Project Would Harm Local Communities, Escalate Climate Crisis

SALT LAKE CITY― Conservation groups sued the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board today for granting $27.9 million in public money to a proposed railway that would move oil from the Uinta Basin to refineries in other states.

Under state law the funds administered by the board must go toward public projects that help communities deal with harms from mineral development on federal public lands. Today’s lawsuit, filed in Utah district court in Salt Lake City, says the board broke state law when it transferred money to the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition to advance the Uinta Basin Railway. The coalition, which sought the grant funding, is also named as a defendant in the suit.

“This money is meant to help repair damage done by the fossil fuel industry, not subsidize it,” said Wendy Park, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The board is supposed to help rural communities build health centers, libraries, and other community facilities. Instead it’s giving gifts to private oil companies and buying more pollution.”

The proposed 85-mile Uinta Basin Railway would lead to a significant increase in oil extraction in the region. New drilling and fracking would damage roads, strain public facilities and services, worsen the climate crisis and harm public health.

Before the board’s June 2019 vote to fully fund the project, a state assistant attorney general warned that issuing the grant would be illegal.

“The Uinta Basin Railway has been designed for one thing only: oil,” said John Weisheit, conservation director at Living Rivers. “The railroad ends at two places, a major oil producer’s doorstep and the middle of a remote drilling field. The basin’s residents would never set foot on this railroad, but their money is being taken to build it.”

In May the Office of the Legislative Auditor General released an audit raising serious concerns about the Community Impact Board, including improper funding of economic development projects. The report found that the board often failed to follow rules and guidelines limiting awards to $5 million and requiring matching funds. The audit highlighted the Uinta Basin Railway as one of the projects demonstrating the need to improve the board’s policies and practices.

The railway could lead to a quadrupling of oil production in northeast Utah’s Uinta Basin, worsening smog in an area that already violates federal pollution standards because of oil and gas extraction. The railroad, along with access roads, well pads, pipelines and increased trucking, would also fragment wildlife habitat, strain precious water supplies and cause greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

Living Rivers is a nonprofit environmental membership organization, based in Moab, Utah. Living Rivers promotes river restoration and seeks to revive natural habitat and the spirit of rivers by undoing the extensive damage done by dams, diversions and pollution on the Colorado Plateau. Learn more at www.livingrivers.org

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