Oil Rail Project Rejection Should Stick

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Oil Rail Project Rejection Should Stick

In a legal saga surrounding the proposed Uinta Basin Railway, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) is standing firm, urging the D.C. Circuit not to reconsider its decision to reject federal

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approval for the oil rail project. The STB, joined by the Biden administration, environmental groups, and a Colorado county, argues that despite the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, the rejection should stick.

STB Defends Environmental Analysis

The STB, an independent federal agency, contends that it meticulously evaluated the environmental impacts of the proposed 80-mile rail line designed to transport crude oil from Utah. The agency maintains it took a “hard look” at the potential effects when it authorized the project in December 2021. However, a D.C. Circuit panel disagreed, ruling in August that the board’s environmental analysis violated federal law and its own enabling act.

Factual Errors or Legal Missteps?

In response to the court’s decision, the STB asserted that the court’s findings were factually incorrect but not inconsistent with precedent. The agency disagrees with the court’s interpretation of its precedent, arguing that the identified region, the expansive Uinta Basin, is not specific enough to reasonably foresee upstream impacts. The court, on the contrary, believed the environmental effects could be measured in the “already identified region.”

Oil Rail Project Rejection Should Stick : Revisiting the Ruling

The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition and Uinta Basin Railway LLC, proponents of the railway, have urged the court to revisit its decision. Their petition for rehearing argues that the court deviated from its own “bright line” rule on “reasonable foreseeability.” They cite precedents in Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. FERC and Center for Biological Diversity v. FERC.

Biden Administration and Environmental Groups Weigh In

The Biden administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service counter that the court properly distinguished the cases cited in the petition. They argue that the panel correctly determined that the railway’s end users were not as unknown as in the referenced cases, and thus, a full court review is unnecessary.

Environmental Groups Stand Firm

Environmental groups, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, also advocate for upholding the court’s ruling. Ted Zukoski, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, emphasized the uphill battle faced by the railway, especially with opposition from both the STB and the Department of Justice.

Oil Rail Project Rejection Should Stick : Legal Community Responds

Nathaniel Hunt of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP supports the panel’s decision, calling it well-reasoned and consistent with other circuit court decisions. The STB and the Department of Justice, along with Eagle County, echoed this sentiment.

Oil Rail Project Rejection Should Stick : What’s Next?

As the legal battle unfolds, the question remains whether the court will stand by its decision or entertain the plea for a rehearing. The Uinta Basin Railway’s fate hangs in the balance as stakeholders await the court’s final word.