The state of Utah has intervened in the Eagle County lawsuit to stop federal approval of a rail line that would place tankers on the line paralleling the Colorado River across much of the Western Slope.
In 2022, Eagle County joined environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, to dispute the final approval in December 2021 by the US Surface Transportation Board of an 85-mile rail line. miles. The challenge to the as yet unbuilt line was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C.
The line would carry crude oil from Utah’s Uinta Basin to the national rail network that runs roughly parallel to Interstate 70 and the Colorado River through western Colorado.
The lawsuit challenges that approval on a number of grounds, most notably potential environmental impacts.
The initial complaint alleges that the decision was made incorrectly and that it “failed to consider the significant environmental impact of the Railroad on the environment and communities along the … line.”
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Since the lawsuit was filed, several Colorado communities have filed reports in support of Eagle County’s position. Pitkin, Garfield and Routt counties have also submitted reports of support.
Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu noted that the state of Colorado is not among the entities filing reports supporting the county’s case.
The Utah state government takes a different view. On January 6, officials filed a brief supporting the defense of the federal board’s decision, along with the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition and the Uinta Basin Railway, LLC.
As its name implies, the coalition consists of the seven counties in the watershed, all of which would presumably see an economic boost from additional activity in the area.
The state’s support brief backs up the defendants’ assertions, stating that it has “a significant interest in economic development opportunities for its most rural counties.”
The brief states that the federal board considered the merits of the project and imposed “many mitigation measures.”
The Utah report states that Eagle County and others favored a project analysis that “extends well beyond what is required by law … to achieve the outcome they would prefer.”
Beyond that, the Utah report focuses on the economic benefits to the state, claiming that blocking the project would ultimately “harm area residents.” The three counties in which the rail line would be located are in the bottom half of Utah counties in terms of per capita income,” the report states.
Treu said that, in his opinion, the Utah report does little to address the allegation that the approval process for the rail line was not correct.
The county’s response to the defendants is due in February, Treu said. Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled.