Eagle County Shroll manager: Utah oil trains would ‘fan the flames’ of climate change

Eagle County Executive Jeff Shroll (photo by David O. Williams).

Two of Colorado’s most cherished natural resources have been in the news a lot lately: the endangered Colorado River and key national forest areas that lawmakers want to protect for future generations.

Both are threatened by an oil train project in Utah Colorado officials and conservation groups say they should be sent back to the drawing board for much more environmental scrutiny.

In separate opening briefs filed August 18 in the United States Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., Eagle County and a coalition of five environmental groups argued that the federal government failed to respond. adequately to their concerns of up to 10 oil trains a day running on Union Pacific. Central Colorado Corridor.

In approving the 88-mile Uinta Basin Railroad linking northeastern Utah oil fields to the main rail network, they say the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) and U.S. Forest Service should have granted more attention to climate change, wildfires and potential oil spills in the Colorado River.

“The [STB] refused to engage in a balanced analysis of the environmental impact and merits of transportation, including consideration of all identified environmental impacts, financial issues, and risks to public health and safety documented in the file,” Eagle County said.

Eagle County and conservation groups have asked the court to reverse and dismiss the STB’s final decision and demand a much deeper review of the $1.4 billion rail project that could send up to 350,000 barrels of oil from Utah per day through Colorado.

Eagle County and its Denver-based law firm cited STB’s failure to follow its own rules under ICCTA [Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act] and has applied for proper environmental review under NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act of 1970] and NHPA [National Historic Preservation Act of 1966].

Eagle County also cited potential impacts to historic sites and land it owns along the river and railroad, as well as the possible reopening of the dormant 220-mile Tennessee Pass line between Dotsero in western Eagle and Pueblo County.

Federal agencies, the Uinta Basin Railway and the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition — a group of seven Utah counties that contributed $28 million in public funds to the private project — have 60 days from the Aug. 18 filing to answer.

“The railroad not only increases the risk of ignition for dangerous disasters such as wildfires, but it will also lead to the mining and burning of fossil fuels contributing to climate change, which will expose the county to ‘Eagle and its residents face heightened threats from extreme heat, extreme drought, and extreme weather, including thunderstorms triggering wildfires and flash flooding,’ Eagle County Executive Jeff Shroll wrote in a statement. attached. “In other words, the railroad could both light the game and fan the flames for future impacts on Eagle County.”

Eagle County, home to two of Colorado’s most popular ski areas and a strong outdoor recreation economy in the White River National Forest, faces the huge spike in oil trains, traveling mostly along the Colorado River, on the Continental Divide at Winter Park and down to Denver, threatens this economy.

In addition to the STB approval, the Uinta Basin Railroad — owned by Drexel Hamilton Infrastructure Partners and operated by Rio Grande Pacific — also got the go-ahead from the U.S. Forest Service to traverse 12 miles of the U.S. National Forest. Ashley in Utah.

The Center for Biological Diversity, one of five environmental groups challenging the project, is urging US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to cancel his own USFS.

“You know, it’s currently in litigation,” Vilsack told the Colorado Times Recorder earlier this month at Camp Hale near Eagle County. “People are raising questions about the Surface Transportation Board’s decision, and it’s probably inappropriate for me to comment too much on that.”

Colorado US Senator Michael Bennett, who along with US Representative Joe Neguse has backed local efforts to stop the project since March, felt no qualms about remaining silent.

“I might take the opportunity to comment on it because I sent a letter to the secretary, asking him to take a look at it, and I hope they do. [reverse the USFS approval]”, Bennet said.

On Friday, Colorado Governor Jared Polis, Bennet, Neguse and U.S. Senator from Colorado John Hickenlooper called on the Biden administration to use the Antiquities Act to preserve historic Camp Hale, where the famed U.S. Army 10e Mountain Division Ski Soldiers trained to fight Germany and Japan in World War II.

Oil trains could impact Camp Hale if efforts by three different railroad companies to revive the long-dormant Tennessee Pass Line are successful. In this scenario, tanker trains could turn southeast at Dotsero, cross the dangerous Tennessee Pass, along the Eagle River adjacent to Camp Hale, then along the Arkansas River through Pueblo to the coast. of the gulf. On the active Central Corridor, oil trains would travel along the Colorado River to Denver and then down the Front Range.

In his briefing, Eagle County Executive Shroll pointed out that Uinta Basin railroad operator Rio Grande Pacific, a Texas-based company, is working with Union Pacific to relaunch limited freight and passenger service on UP’s Tennessee Pass line, which was mothballed but not abandoned in a merger. in 1997.

“Transporting crude oil over the remote, steep, winding and mountainous line of the Tennessee Pass would introduce risks associated with accidents, including spills and releases into or near sensitive areas such as water sources, important wildlife habitat areas and recreation sites in Eagle County. “Shroll wrote. “Even if the Tennessee Pass Line were only reopened to non-oil trains to increase the capacity of Union Pacific’s active line for oil trains, the increase in rail traffic would harm the communities that have been built around the Tennessee Pass Line, which has been inactive for over 20 years.

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared on the Colorado Times Recorder website.

The dormant Tennessee Pass Line through Eagle County (photo by David O. Williams).
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David O. Williams is editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and his award-winning work (see About Us) has appeared in over 75 newspapers and magazines worldwide, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines) , Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, Boulder Daily Camera, Casper Star Tribune ( Wyoming), Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, Colorado Springs Gazette, Colorado Springs Independent, Colorado Statesman ( now Colorado Politics), Colorado Times Recorder, Cortez Journal, Craig Daily Press, Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), Daily Trail (Vail), Del Norte Triplicate (California), Denver Daily News, Denver Gazette , the Denver Post , Durango Herald, Eagle Valley Enterprise, Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Montreal), Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Greeley Tribune, Huffington Post, King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, Las Vegas Sun, Leadville Herald- Democrat, London Daily Mirror, Moab Times Independent (Utah), Montgomery Journal (Maryland), Montrose Daily Press, New York Times, Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKI Magazine, Sky-Hi News, Steamboat Pilot & Today, Sterling Jour nal Advocate (Colorado), Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, Vail Daily, Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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