Comments to UDOT on the taxpayer backed bond request from Uinta Basin Railway

We urged the Forest Service not to approve passage of the Uinta Basin Oil Railway over our lands last fall. They didn’t listen. Now, the taxpayers could be on the hook for the fossil fuel project. 

The company is seeking U. S. Department of Transportation approval to issue $2 billion dollars of tax-exempt bonds.“The bond offering drew immediate fire from the railroad’s critics who called it a taxpayer-supported subsidy worth about $80 million to the oil industry,” as the Salt Lake Tribune reported. 

At a hearing on the bond request last Thursday, UPHE made the following comments. 

“During the winters of 2012 and 2013, corresponding to a peak in oil and gas drilling in the Uinta Basin, researchers from the U. of Colorado measured atmospheric pollution in the area of greatest activity. They found what can only be described as a pollution nightmare, levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) 200 to 300 times background levels. They said it was the equivalent of what you would expect from 100 million cars, 8 times more cars than are registered in the Los Angeles Basin, nearly the same number as all the cars registered in the entire country. These VOCs are typified by the BTEX compound group, benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene, are some of the most toxic chemicals known to science, prominent contaminants of the fugitive emissions from the oil and gas industry. The same area has also been dancing with an on going violation of EPA’s ozone standards, and often violates the 24 hr. PM2.5.  Wherever you have a pollution nightmare you will eventually find a public health nightmare if you look hard enough and wait long enough.  

The entire purpose of this railway is to quadruple oil and gas production in the basin. So imagine now the town of Vernal, not with the pollution equivalent of 100 million cars, but 400 million cars. The cruel irony is while employment from the oil industry would certainly sky rocket, so would the pollution and public health consequences to the exact same population and also the entire Western region.

You then also have the potential, if not the certainty, of a train accident the consequences of which could dwarf what has happened in East Palestine, Ohio. Instead of hopelessly contaminating the Ohio River and the water supply of everyone downstream, an accident on this railway would contaminate the Colorado River, the primary water resource for 40 million people in six states. How any public officials, government agency, or private corporation would conclude this is still a great idea, is just breathtaking hubris, denial, and greed. 

The absolute last thing we should be doing is handing over public subsidies to the oil and gas industry.”

Read the Tribune’s coverage of the request here.