A proposed rail line transporting oil through roadless areas of a Utah national forest does not conflict with the sustainability goals of the Biden administration, the Forest Service has told opponents of the project.
In a letter to the Center for Biological Diversity, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said the Uinta Basin Railway would help the local economy and support President Biden’s policies to “rebuild our infrastructure for a sustainable economy “.
The problem is an 88-mile-long railway line that would primarily carry crude oil and sand for hydraulic fracturing, providing a route for the expansion of oil production in the Uinta Basin. A 12 mile portion would pass through Ashley National Forest, including non-road areas closed to certain types of development.
Moore’s letter underscored the Forest Service’s view that allowing trains to pass through the forest would not cause significant damage to the environment and violate protections in non-road areas, as rail tracks are not not considered roads under the conservation rule for non-road areas.
“The railroad will bring economic growth to rural, urban, and tribal communities in Utah because products travel faster and more safely by rail than by tractor-trailer on a highway,” Moore said in the statement. letter.
Its response to the group, which Moore asked to be shared with other opponents, follows a draft decision in early November approving the part of the project in the National Forest. The project is subject to a 45 day comment period.
The CBD said it was disappointed with Moore’s response, which failed to address specific objections related to climate change, for example.
The group wrote to him in early September, saying the rail line would encourage fossil fuel production and defeat the administration’s goal of reducing carbon emissions.
“It’s like it came from someone who lives in an alternate reality – because there is nothing ‘sustainable’ or ‘safer’ about this project,” said Deeda Seed, head of the campaign for the organization’s public lands.
The Surface Transportation Board is the federal agency responsible for the project and drafts the required environmental impact study.
The project has support from state officials, as well as Republicans in Utah, Mitt Romney and Mike Lee.
On forest system lands, the project would include the construction of five bridges and three tunnels, but no roads in the designated roadless areas, according to the Forest Service. The right-of-way would be between 100 feet and 2,100 feet wide, with the largest dimensions needed for tunnels, roughly parallel to US Highway 191.
And while Moore, in his letter, noted the advantages of rail over semi-trailers, the Forest Service said the project would not divert any traffic from existing trucks to trains.
In early September, the groups – also including the Sierra Club and Wild Earth Guardians, among others – urged the Forest Service to reject the railroad on several grounds (Green wire, October 29).
“We ask the Forest Service to refuse to issue the right of way as this directly conflicts with the administration’s climate change policies aimed at drastically reducing emissions by 2030 and the no-road rule,” they declared.
The organization behind the project, called the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, estimated that between three and 10 trains per day could use the single-track right-of-way, depending on future demand for oil. Other goods or commodities could also be moved, but in lesser quantities, depending on the Forest Service’s decision file.
The CBD and other groups have estimated that trains carrying up to 350,000 barrels of crude oil per day could pass through the forest bound for refineries on the Gulf Coast. That’s four times the amount currently trucked to Salt Lake City, the group said.
“Conservative estimates of carbon pollution resulting from this expansion of fossil fuel extraction equate to up to 53 million tonnes of CO2, 6 times more than the annual emissions of the dirtiest coal-fired power plant in the world. Utah, ”they said.
The Forest Service chose one out of three preferred alternatives, saying it would result in reduced carbon and pollutant emissions during construction and operation and cross less areas at risk for landslides or forest fires.