U.S. Supreme Court will hear Utah oil train NEPA case

Jun 25, 2024

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will review a lower court’s ruling that blocked the Uinta Basin Railway. Formally proposed in 2019, the Uinta Basin Railway is intended to connect oil fields in eastern Utah to the national rail system, enabling the oil to be transported to refineries. Currently, oil from this region is transported by tanker trucks. If the railway were to move forward, it would more than double the total amount of oil transported in the U.S. as of 2022, and would result in a tenfold increase of hazardous material transport through sensitive areas, including along the Colorado River in western Colorado.

At issue in the case is how broad federal agency environmental reviews can, and should, be. When the Surface Transportation Board conducted its environmental review of the project, it concluded that because it does not have the authority to regulate oil and gas development, it did not have to consider the impacts of oil and gas as part of its review; the board approved the project in 2021. Eagle County, Colorado, and a coalition of environmental organizations challenged this ruling, and in 2023 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it, ruling that the Surface Transportation Board did in fact have an obligation to consider the environmental impacts of the oil and gas development that would be enabled by the railway, and ordered the board to address those deficiencies in its environmental review.

The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, made up of Utah county governments that support the project, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed on Monday to hear the appeal. The case, Seven County Infrastructure Coalition v. Eagle County, Colorado, will be heard during the Supreme Court’s next term, which begins in October 2024. If the Utah counties are successful, the railway will still face additional challenges such as securing billions of dollars in needed financing. “The fossil fuel industry’s insistence on a doomed project at the expense of taxpayers underscores that it’s only interested in protecting its own bottom line,” said Luis Miranda, the Sierra Club’s Utah chapter director. “The Uinta Basin Railway threatens public health, as well as treasured landscapes and waterways. A derailment would carry immeasurable harm.”

Protecting the Mimbres Peaks in southern New Mexico

In a recent conversation on the Center for Western Priorities’ The Landscape podcast, Aaron and Kate spoke with Ray and BJ Trejo, a father and son who know and love southern New Mexico’s Mimbres Peaks region and want to see it protected for present and future generations. Excerpts from their conversation about what makes this part of New Mexico so special, how the monument proposal came into existence, and how it could benefit the local community have just been published in a new blog post by CWP Director of Campaigns Lauren Bogard. More information about the national monument proposal, as well as photographs of the area, are also included.

Quick hits

Supreme Court will review Utah oil train project, consider narrower scope for environmental reviews

Colorado Newsline | Associated Press | E&E News | Politico

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Groundwater in Colorado River Basin will struggle to recover from warming temperatures, study shows

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When a landslide blocks your commute

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Opinion: Oil and gas and Montana’s future

Missoula Current

Quote of the day

Communities with lots of orphaned wells won’t have much of a chance to create recreation assets like trails, campgrounds and access points because nobody wants to recreate in an abandoned industrial site.”

—Eric Melson, Missoula City Council member, Missoula Current

Picture This

@usinterior

With dramatic rocky peaks, wildflower meadows and picturesque streams, Handies Peak Wilderness Study Area in Colorado is an alpine delight.

The rugged landscape is home to Handies Peak, the tallest peak on land managed by @mypubliclands in the continental U.S. You’ll also discover glacial cirques (bowl-shaped depressions that glaciers carve into mountains), three alpine lakes and three major canyons with streams. Handies Peak is one of nearly 500 wilderness study areas, unspoiled by roads or other development, where you can explore and seek solitude.

Photo by Bob Wick / @mypubliclands

 

Feature image: A train travels along the Colorado River in western Colorado. The Library of Congress, Carol M. Highsmith Archive