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Press Release

100-Plus Environmental Groups Urge Agriculture Secretary to Block Oil Train Railway Through Utah, Colorado

WASHINGTON -

More than 100 environmental organizations, representing millions of supporters across the country, urged Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack today to block a proposed right-of-way through a Utah national forest that would enable construction of the Uinta Basin Railway.

The railway’s construction would result in a quadrupling of fossil fuel production in northeast Utah’s Uinta Basin, worsening dangerous smog in an area that already violates federal pollution standards because of oil and gas extraction. Railway developers plan to run up to 10 two-mile-long oil trains per day through drought-stricken, wildfire-prone landscapes in Utah and Colorado, including a long stretch of the Colorado River, the source of drinking water for 40 million people.

“The harm from this proposed railway will exacerbate the climate emergency, increase the risk of wildfires and oil spills, put pressure on our already strained rail system and increase pollution while undermining President Biden’s goals to address the climate crisis,” the letter said.

The railway is expected to increase oil production in the Uinta Basin by up to 350,000 barrels a day. That’s conservatively estimated at 53 million tons of carbon dioxide per year — equivalent to emissions from six of Utah’s dirtiest coal plants.

“The administration can halt this filthy oil train in its tracks and demonstrate its commitment curbing climate change,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Unita Basin Railway runs counter to everything Biden says he stands for. It’s a climate-killing fossil fuel behemoth that will endanger Utahns and Coloradoans and worsen the climate emergency. It needs to be stopped now.”

In addition to undermining Biden’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, the 88-mile-long railway would dig up Utah streams with more than 400 crossings and strip bare or pave over 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat, including crucial areas on Forest Service land that bighorn sheep and mule deer need to survive. Bulldozers and train traffic would drive imperiled greater sage grouse out of their mating and nesting grounds and, it is feared, wipe them out in the region.

Nearly all the railway through Ashley National Forest — 12 miles with plans for five bridges and three tunnels — would be on public lands protected by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

The oil trains would increase the risk of fires and oil spills along the route through Colorado, including the vulnerable Colorado River corridor, on their way to Gulf Coast refineries. Ramped-up fossil fuel production in the Uinta Basin would likely increase smog along the western slope of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive. 

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