UPHE on letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg opposing Uinta Basin Railway

Increasing fossil fuel extraction contradicts the Biden Administration’s climate goals.

UPHE joined 149 other environmental groups in sending a letter to the U.S. Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, to pull the plug on the Uinta Basin Railway. 

The railway would be a regional air pollution nightmare, a climate disaster, and an unnecessary risk for accidents that could leak oil into the Colorado River, of which 40 million people depend on as their primary water supply. 

Since the East Palestine train derailment in Ohio occurred, showering that town with toxic vinyl chloride and dioxins, two other train derailments have occurred. The only reason they weren’t calamities is that they weren’t carrying such hazardous chemicals. We cannot risk a derailment of an oil train running along the Colorado River. It is shocking that it’s even being considered.

Train derailment risks aside, the railway’s purpose is to increase oil production in the Uinta Basin region of Utah. The Biden Administration ran on promises to address the climate crisis. Increasing oil production is moving in the opposite direction. 

One of the most frustrating parts of the railway proposal for environmentally-minded residents is the tax cuts to fund the polluting project. 

Click here for the Deseret News’ coverage.

Full letter below:

The Honorable Pete Buttigieg
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave., SE Washington, DC 20590
Email: DOTExecSec@dot.gov

Re: Please Reject Funding Uinta Basin Oil Train with Tax-Exempt Private Activity Bonds

Dear Secretary Buttigieg,

On behalf of the more than 150 groups listed below, and our millions of members and supporters, we write to urge the Department of Transportation to reject the use of tax-exempt “private activity bonds” for the Uinta Basin Railway, a project intended to quadruple oil production in Utah’s Uinta Basin. Supporting this project will directly undermine President Biden’s priority of addressing the climate crisis, and harm communities through which these oil trains will travel and where this oil will be refined.

A federal agency review concluded the proposed new Railway would add up to 87 million gallons of waxy crude per week to the interstate rail system, oil that would not be drilled but for the ability to ship it via the Railway. The oil production and combustion the Railway would create would cause up to an additional 56 million tons of carbon pollution a year – more than the nation’s three dirtiest coal plants combined.

Oil would be transported via as many as 180,000 loaded rail cars per year from the Uinta Basin to the mainline of the Union Pacific where it would travel east adjacent to the Colorado River – the source of water for 40 million people – for more than 100 miles, then through Denver, Colorado, and on to Gulf Coast and Cancer Alley refineries, where communities are already over-burdened with toxic emissions from existing facilities.

Federal analyses predict that if this new railway is built train derailments will more than double to roughly three per year between Kyune, Utah and Denver, Colorado. About once a year, according to federal projections, a fully loaded oil train will derail along the route; and roughly once every four years, that derailment would result in an oil spill.

As the recent, disastrous train derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio shows, rail transportation of hazardous materials threatens communities, air, and water along the way. The Department of Transportation should not facilitate a massive increase in the transport of hazardous waxy crude oil on the rail system, thereby increasing the risk of another catastrophic derailment.

In one of his first actions in office, President Biden issued Executive Order 14,008 which directed all departments to “combat the climate crisis, to implement a government-wide approach that reduces climate pollution in every sector of the economy … [and] delivers environmental justice.” The Uinta Basin Railway – which will dramatically worsen climate pollution, increase hazardous air pollutants in environmental justice communities on the Gulf Coast, and threaten lands and waters with oil spills from derailments – conflicts with these priority goals.

Private activity bonds can be an important tool for enabling the construction of infrastructure projects that benefit the traveling public, some of which will even reduce climate pollution. The vast majority of projects DOT has approved for such bonding do just that by supporting mass transit, building safer bridges, improving highways, or building rail links that reduce vehicle miles traveled. The Uinta Basin Railway will do none of these things. Expending the DOT’s limited funds for private activity bonding authority on this oil train would also reduce the amount available for other, more worthy projects.

The Railway’s financial backers assert that authorizing the Railway to issue up to $2 billion in tax-exempt private activity bonds would amount to up to an $80 million per year subsidy to the company. This will be a good deal for the oil industry, but a bad deal for the climate, for environmental justice communities, clean air and water, and U.S. taxpayers.

We urge you to reject the Uinta Basin Railway’s application to issue private activity bonds. If you have questions on this issue, please contact Randi Spivak rspivak@biologicaldiversity.org.

To see the full list of signees, click here.