Environmental groups sue STB approval of Utah rail project


The planned route for the Uinta Basin Railway. The Surface Transportation Board’s approval of the project is being challenged in court by environmental groups. (STB Environmental Analysis Office)

WASHINGTON — A coalition of environmental groups has sued the Surface Transportation Board, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the federal government over the STB’s approval of the Uinta Basin Railway project in Utah.

The lawsuit filed Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by the Center for Biological Diversity and four other groups seeks review of the STB’s decision, as well as review of what it calls “arbitrary biological opinion and capricious” by the Fish & Wildlife Service which was cited by the STB.

The groups say the STB ignored the environmental impact of extracting and processing crude oil – estimated at 350,000 barrels a day – which they say would add 53 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year.

“It is appalling that the board has approved this climate-killing project and has profoundly undermined President Biden’s commitment to addressing the climate emergency,” said Deeda Seed, land campaign manager. public at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “…The council’s action has completely ignored the pollution that will directly result from this dirty railroad, and that is illegal.”

The Sierra Club, Living Rivers, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and WildEarth Guardians are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“We need a full accounting of the climate cost of fossil fuel infrastructure projects like the Uinta Basin Railroad,” said Dan Mayhew, conservation president for the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club. , in the press release.

STB spokesman Michael Booth told Reuters the board “is extremely transparent in its decisions” but declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The STB granted the regulatory exemption allowing construction of the 85-mile line to connect the western Utah oil fields to the national rail network on December 15. [see “STB clears path for Uinta Basin Railway project,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 16, 2021]. Its decision said the project “is likely to produce unavoidable environmental impacts”, but that the “transportation merits of the projects outweigh the environmental impacts”.

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