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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Lawmakers, environmentalists call on feds to block bonds for Uinta Basin rail project


By Julie Sneider, Senior Associate Editor

Three federal lawmakers from Colorado and more than 150 environmental groups have asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to block up to $2 billion in tax-exempt bonds that would finance an 88-mile railway in Utah.

In a March 28 letter to Buttigieg, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (all D-Colo.) cited rail safety concerns related to the extraction and use of Uinta Basin oilfields.

The letter cites concerns over the Uinta Basin Railway project, which the lawmakers and environmental groups say would quadruple oil production in Utah's Uinta Basin.

The oil would then be shipped from the basin via rail to Union Pacific Railroad’s mainline where it would travel east adjacent to the Colorado River for more than 100 miles, then through Denver and on to Gulf Coast refineries.

"Federal analyses predict that if this new railway is built, train derailments will more than double to roughly three per year between Kyune, Utah, and Denver, Colorado. About once a year, according to federal projections, a fully loaded oil train will derail along the route, and roughly once every four years, that derailment would result in an oil spill," the letter states.

The letter also cites the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in a massive fire and the release of toxic chemicals into the environment.

"The [U.S.] Department of Transportation should not facilitate a massive increase in the transport of hazardous, waxy crude oil on the rail system, thereby increasing the risk of another catastrophic derailment," the lawmakers and environmental advocates wrote.

Meanwhile, Bennet and Neguse called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a supplemental review of the Uinta Basin Railway project. The EPA's review of the Surface Transportation Board’s environmental analysis of the new railway "had several shortcomings," Bennet and Neguse wrote in a letter to EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker.

"First, [the EPA review] focused solely on the project's risks in Utah with no evaluation of its potential harm to Colorado, including the risk of a derailment and oil spill in the headwaters of the river," they wrote. "Second, this review also failed to include any analysis of the project’s effect on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. We urge you to conduct a supplemental review to fully account for these potential harms."

The STB approved construction and operation of the new railway in late 2021.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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