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Uinta Basin Railway proponents take their case to the Supreme Court

Amy Hadden Marsh
An oil train heads east on the Union Pacific tracks through New Castle, Colorado.

The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, a group of Utah county governments behind the beleaguered Uinta Basin Railway, is nothing if not persistent. Despite several legal losses and recent permit withdrawals, the coalition is taking one more legal step to get the railway back on track.

On March 4, Utah’s Seven County Infrastructure Coalition filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, requesting a hearing about an August decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that has led to a series of setbacks for the Uinta Basin Railway, which would connect the oil-rich Uinta Basin to the national rail line. Oil trains would then travel from Utah through Colorado to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The Appeals Court overturned the December 2021 ruling of the Federal Surface Transportation Board, which approved the proposed 88-mile railway. The court ruled the Surface Transportation Board did not properly consider the potential downstream environmental impacts.

In November, the court rejected a petition for a re-hearing, and in January, the U.S. Forest Service withdrew its approval for the railway segment to cross a roadless area in Utah’s Ashley National Forest.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reports that the petition to the Supreme Court claims the Appeals Court decision took too broad a view of the National Environmental Policy Act review and that federal regulatory agencies did not have to consider the impacts to Colorado or the Gulf Coast communities where the oil would be refined.

Wendy Park, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which has successfully litigated against the UBR in federal court, says the Supreme Court petition is a last ditch attempt to dodge environmental laws.

"The courts have made crystal clear that the oil train project violates numerous federal laws. And worse, the project is a climate train wreck. It would risk spills and fires along the Colorado River, which is already threatened by drought and climate change. And so this catastrophic oil industry project should be dropped once and for all," she said.

Park adds that the Center will respond to the petition if the Supreme Court accepts it, "So before the court can actually get to the merits of the case, it has to grant review and, and it could deny review here and it does so in, like, over 90 percent of the cases. So, the odds are not great for the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition."

Park says it could take several months before the Supreme Court decides whether or not to take the case.
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That story was shared with us via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico.

Amy Hadden Marsh