New legal brief supports controversial Utah rail line opposed by Eagle County and others
The latest brief comes from the state of Utah, which supports the project
The state of Utah has weighed in on Eagle County’s lawsuit to stop federal approval of a rail line that would put oil tankers on the line that parallels the Colorado River on much of the Western Slope.
In 2022, Eagle County joined environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity in disputing the final approval in December of 2021 by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board of an 85-mile rail line. The challenge to the still-unbuilt line was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C.
Against the line: Eagle County, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups.
For the line: The U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition and the Uinta Basin Railway, LLC.
The line would transport crude oil from the Uinta Basin of Utah to the national rail network that runs roughly parallel to Interstate 70 and the Colorado River through western Colorado.
The suit challenges that approval on several grounds, especially potential environmental impacts.
The initial complaint alleges the decision was made incorrectly and that it “failed to consider the significant environmental impact of the Railway on the environment and communities along the… line.”
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Since the suit was filed, a number of Colorado communities have filed briefs in support of Eagle County’s position. Pitkin, Garfield and Routt counties have also filed briefs in support.
Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu noted that the state of Colorado isn’t among the entities filing briefs supporting the county’s case.
Utah’s state government takes a different view. Officials there on Jan. 6 filed a brief in support of the defense of the federal board’s decision, along with the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition and the Uinta Basin Railway, LLC.
As the name implies, the coalition consists of the seven counties in the basin, all of which presumably would see an economic boost from additional activity in the area.
The state’s support brief backs the defendants’ assertions, stating that it has “significant interest in economic development opportunities for its more rural counties.”
The brief notes that the federal board considered the project’s merits, and imposed “many mitigation measures.”
The Utah brief states that Eagle County and others favored a project analysis that “extends far beyond what the law requires… to reach a result that they would prefer.”
Beyond that, the Utah brief focuses on economic benefits to the state, alleging that blocking the project would ultimately “hurt area residents.” The three counties in which the rail line would be located are all in the bottom half of Utah counties in terms of per capita income,” the brief notes.
Treu said in his view, Utah’s brief doesn’t do much to address the allegation that the rail line approval process wasn’t correct.
The county’s response to the defendants is due in February, Treu said. Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled.