Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 10, 2022


Deeda Seed, (801) 803-9892,

Pressure Mounts on Agriculture Secretary to Reject Hazardous Utah Oil Trains

Uinta Basin Railway Would Worsen Climate Emergency, Threaten Colorado, Gulf Coast Communities

SALT LAKE CITY— More than 100 environmental, climate and frontline Gulf Coast groups, representing millions of supporters across the country, today urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to stop the Uinta Basin Railway. The proposed railway would create 53 million tons of new carbon pollution every year by opening Utah’s remote Uinta Basin to more oil extraction.

Vilsack could stop the 88-mile-long railway by reversing the U.S. Forest Service’s July decision to approve a right-of-way through a protected area in Ashley National Forest in Utah, one of the last steps needed for construction to begin.

“Dramatically increasing carbon pollution will worsen the punishing heatwaves, drought and fires that are wreaking havoc across this country and the world,” the groups said in their letter to Vilsack. “You pledged to take bold action to address the climate crisis. This is your chance to do just that.”

The proposed Uinta Basin Railway conflicts with President Biden’s climate executive orders and his declaration that the world is in a climate emergency. In June Vilsack directed the Forest Service to “take bold action” to address the climate crisis, but just weeks later the agency approved the railway right-of-way.

“If Vilsack is serious about tackling the climate emergency, he’ll reverse this reckless decision and derail this railway,” said Deeda Seed, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Utah campaigner. “This railway threatens water, wildlife and communities in at least three states. It will dump more toxic pollution on frontline communities already suffering from petrochemical plants. It will accelerate the climate crisis when we should be slamming on the brakes.”

After this connection to the national railway system is built, private railway developers plan to run five 2-mile-long heated oil trains each day through drought-stricken, wildfire-prone western landscapes in Utah and Colorado. That includes a 200-mile-long stretch along the Colorado River, the source of drinking water for 40 million people.

More than 70 Colorado counties and local governments oppose the railway and have urged Vilsack and the congressional delegation to help stop it. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse have also raised objections.

By connecting the remote Uinta Basin to the national rail network, the railway will spur an increase of up to 350,000 barrels of oil a day, generating as much or more carbon pollution than what’s produced by the nation’s three largest power plants combined. Tens of millions of barrels of crude oil each year will go from Utah to the Houston area for refining. That’s equivalent to adding a new refinery to the region, which already exceeds national pollution standards.

In addition to undermining the Biden administration’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the federal government’s own analysis shows the railway would cause irreversible environmental damage.

According to the federal environmental analysis, railway construction would dig up Utah streams with more than 400 crossings and strip bare or pave over 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat. Nearly all the railway through Ashley National Forest — 12 miles with plans for five bridges and blasting three tunnels — would be on public lands protected by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

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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