GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. — As seven counties in Utah continue progress towards building a railway connecting Utah’s resource-rich Uinta Basin to the national rail network, a coalition of federal, state and local elected leaders are calling on the Biden administration to stop the process – citing environmental concerns about trains hauling crude through Colorado.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Boulder) held a news conference near the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon Friday, urging the U.S. Forest Service not to grant a special use permit to build the railway though Utah’s Ashley National Forest. Bennet called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the impact of up to five trains a day hauling waxy crude along 100 miles adjacent to the Colorado River.
“We’re all here today to say the oil trains from Uinta Basin are not welcome in Colorado,” Bennet said. “When the federal government reviewed this project… it’s important to understand they didn’t properly assess the risk to Colorado.”
In March, Bennet and Neguse wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, warning of the danger of running the trains along the banks of the headwaters of the Colorado River, which provides water to 40 million people in the American West. In that letter, the lawmakers warned of potential derailments, especially after the environmental disaster after a derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
“Derailments in this country are shockingly common… more than 1,000 per year on average,” Bennet told reporters Friday.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that this project, which as the senator said would enable 4.6 billion gallons of oil to travel adjacent to this river, is not a smart idea,” Neguse said. “Imagine the degradation of this river, imagine the ecosystems impacted, imagine the people impacted if a disaster were to occur.”
Glenwood Springs has been no stranger to disaster in Glenwood Canyon.
“This canyon is a very fragile place,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said at a news conference. "We’ve had the Grizzly Creek Fire. We’ve had climate change induced floods… rockslides...Glenwood Springs has an economy that’s based on tourism and a lot of that tourism is based on water.”
The company building the railway did not respond to a 9NEWS request for comment on the opposition as of Friday afternoon. In the past, the head of the company has criticized environmental concerns, saying the waxy crude is easier to clean up than other materials.
Bennet responded to that criticism saying the proponent of the project shouldn’t be the judge of the environmental impact and again called for the federal government to assess the Colorado impact.
The Uinta Basin Railway would allow for a new way for hardened crude to be transported out of the region in Utah. Currently a small road is the only way to move material out. If connected to the national railway, crude could be transported from Utah to the Gulf Coast.
“We are in favor of domestic energy production, I want to note,” said State Sen. Dylan Roberts (D-Steamboat Springs) said. “But you’re supposed to do that in the right and safe way. This is not the right or safe way.”
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