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Bennet, Neguse, Roberts, Scherr cheer U.S. Forest Service withdrawal of Uinta Basin approval

January 17, 2024, 11:53 am

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, podium, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, right, and state Sen. Dylan Roberts, middle, at an event last summer objecting to the Uinta Basin Railway.

The offices of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Colorado U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse on Wednesday issued the following press release applauding the withdrawal by the U.S. Forest Service of its 2022 approval of the Uinta Basin Railway project in Utah:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Colorado U.S. Representative Joe Neguse applauded the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) withdrawal of their Record of Decision that would have authorized the issuance of a special use permit for the Uinta Basin Railway. ​​The permit would have allowed for the construction and operation of a new rail line across 12 miles of the Ashley National Forest for the project. 

“Last year, a federal court agreed with Coloradans that the approval process for the Uinta Basin Railway had been gravely insufficient, and did not properly account for the project’s full risks,” said Bennet. “A derailment along the headwaters of the Colorado River could have catastrophic effects for Colorado’s communities, water, and environment. I’m glad the Forest Service has taken this important step to protect the Colorado River and the tens of millions of people who depend on it.” 

“Early last year, Senator Bennet and I called on the U.S. Forest Service to complete a thorough review of the destructive impact the Uinta Basin Railway Project would have on Colorado’s local communities and environment. Today, after heeding our calls, the agency will withdraw the railway’s Special Use Authorization — making us one step closer to avoiding the dangers that accompany this project and helping us to preserve our state’s water supplies, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation assets, and the broader River Basin,” said Neguse.

If completed, the proposed Uinta Basin Railway Project could ship 4.6 billion gallons of waxy crude oil per year through the Ashley National Forest and Colorado, including over 100 miles directly alongside the headwaters of the Colorado River – the water supply for nearly 40 million Americans, 30 Tribal nations, millions of acres of agricultural land, and a cornerstone of Colorado’s recreation and tourism economies. 

Last year, Bennet and Neguse called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to suspend authorization for the railway until a supplemental review could fully evaluate the project’s effects on Colorado’s local communities and environment. A coalition of local governments in Colorado led a lawsuit opposing the railway approval citing their concerns about risks to the Colorado River, increased wildfire danger, and climate impacts. In August, a federal courtoverruled the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) approval of the project, vacating their environmental review, and ordered a new review. Last month, the court denied a petition to rehear the case and halted the project. This decision led USFS to withdraw its permit since its initial decision to allow the project to move forward relied on STB’s flawed environmental review.

“Through the concerted efforts of our local community members, elected officials and congressional delegates the City of Glenwood is incredibly relieved to know that the Uinta Project will not be allowed to move forward and that our invaluable Colorado River will be protected. This project had the potential of creating an environmental disaster that would have impacted the water source for over 40 million Americans, as well as damaging our agricultural community, recreational commerce and the natural wildlife we so value. We are deeply thankful to Senator Bennet and Representative Neguse for their unwavering support in helping us prevent this potentially devastating project from moving forward,” said Ingrid Wussow, Mayor, City of Glenwood Springs.

“This is such important and positive news for all of us on the Western Slope. Our communities rely on the Colorado River for our agriculture production, outdoor recreation economy, and for the pristine beauty of our environment. With this river already under threat from climate change and overuse in the lower basin, the additional threat of hot crude oil transport along the river was severely concerning to the bipartisan group of Western Slope state lawmakers and the constituents we represent. I am so thankful that the USFS has agreed that this project was not suitable. I look forward to continued work with our partners in the rail industry to find other ways to make both freight and passenger rail transportation viable and safe. Thank you so much to the leadership of Senator Michael Bennet, Congressman Joe Neguse, Eagle County, and all the communities and individuals that helped make today possible,” said Dylan Roberts, Colorado State Senator, Clear Creek, Eagle, Garfield, Gilpin, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, and Summit Counties.

“Eagle County is thrilled with the USDA’s responsible decision to not allow the Uinta Basin project to move forward as proposed. We have been concerned with the tremendous potential and certain environmental impacts of this project since we became aware of it. Our successful lawsuit that overturned the Surface Transportation Board’s approval was apparently only the first of what seems to necessarily be many victories to protect the Colorado River, our forests, and our climate. Though happy with the USDA decision, we will remain diligent and attentive to what we are sure will be further efforts to revive this project driven by special corporate interests. We are grateful to be working together with other local communities, organizations, and Senator Bennet and Representative Neguse to protect our nation’s resources and citizens,” said Matt Scherr, County Commissioner, Eagle County.

Bennet and Neguse have consistently raised concerns about the proposed Uinta Basin Railway and its risks to the entire Colorado River Basin. In July 2022, Bennet and Neguse called on the Biden administration’s Council on Environmental Quality to review whether previous analyses fully considered the effects of the railway on Colorado’s communities, watersheds, and forests. In addition to their letter to USDA, in March 2023, the lawmakers urged the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a supplemental review of the project to consider its risk to Colorado. Earlier that month, Bennet, Neguse, and U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper urged U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to consider the risks of approving federal financing mechanisms to fund the project. 

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