U.S. Supreme Court to hear $1.5 billion crude oil railway case

June 26, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether to revive a 2021 approval by federal regulators for a $1.5 billion crude oil railway project in Utah.

In Seven County Infrastructure v. Eagle County, Colo., the court will take up whether the National Environmental Policy Act requires an agency to study environmental impacts beyond the immediate effects of an action that agency has authority to regulate.

The appeal was filed by proponents of the Uinta Basin Railway who are challenging a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that tossed out a permit issued by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board for the 88-mile project.

The railroad would give shippers of crude oil and other commodities an alternative to trucking through the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah.

Lawyers for the railway project — a public-private partnership that includes a seven-county Utah infrastructure coalition, investor DHIP Group and rail operator Rio Grande Pacific Corp — filed the appeal.

In August, a U.S. Appeals Court revoked approval for the project, finding that the federal Surface Transportation Board did not sufficiently analyze the project’s environmental impacts.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Surface Transportation Board erred in failing to analyze the project’s upstream drilling impacts on wildlife and vegetation and downstream refining impacts on Gulf Coast communities.

Keith Heaton, director of the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, said in a statement the counties’ coalition was optimistic about the Supreme Court’s decision to review the case.

“This project is vital for the economic growth and connectivity of the Uinta Basin region, and we are committed to seeing it through,” he said.

The proposed railroad has met challenges from various environmental groups who contend it will harm wild plants, public lands and natural habitats for wildlife.

“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 Sierra Club Utah Chapter director Luis Miranda. “The Uinta Basin Railway threatens public health, as well as treasured landscapes and waterways. A derailment would carry immeasurable harm.”

Photo courtesy of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment

Miles Smith

Miles Smith has more than two decades of communications experience in the public and private sectors, including several years of covering local governments for various daily and weekly print publications. His scope of work includes handling public relations for large private-sector corporations and managing public-facing communications for local governments.

Smith has recently joined the team as a content writer for SPI’s news publications, which include Texas Government Insider, Government Contracting Pipeline and its newest digital product, Government Market News, which launched in September 2023. He graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s in journalism.

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