Lawmakers, Environmental Groups Urge DOT to Reject Use of Bonds to Fund Uinta Basin Railway

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
Federal lawmakers and environmental groups are urging the DOT to reject the use of tax-exempt

Federal lawmakers and environmental groups are urging the DOT to reject the use of tax-exempt "private equity bonds" to fund the Uinta Basin Railway.

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), along with more than 150 environmental groups, some from as far away as New Jersey, have sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to reject the use of tax-exempt “private activity bonds” for the Uinta Basin Railway, stating that the project would “undermine President Biden’s priority of addressing the climate crisis, and harm communities through which these oil trains will travel and where this oil will be refined.”

Construction and operation of the new railway, which, according to the March 28 letter, is “intended to quadruple oil production in Utah’s Uinta Basin,” was approved by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in December 2021.

According to the letter, oil would be transported via as many as 180,000 loaded rail cars per year from the Uinta Basin to the mainline of Union Pacific (UP) where it would travel east adjacent to the Colorado River for more than 100 miles, then through Denver, Colorado and on to Gulf Coast and Cancer Alley refineries, where communities are “already over-burdened with toxic emissions from existing facilities.”

“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,” according to the letter, which also cited the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern (NS) train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

“The DOT 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 letter stated.

Additionally, Bennet and Neguse wrote to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator KC Becker in a separate letter calling on the EPA to conduct a supplemental review of the railway, stating that the EPA’s review of the STB’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the project has “several shortcomings,” including focusing 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.”

According to Bennet and Neguse’s letter, review of the EIS also “failed to include analysis of the project’s effect on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.”

Additional Railway Age coverage on the Uinta Basin Railway project is available here.

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