Lawsuit challenges money for planned Uinta Basin Railway

Groups say law broken when $28 million granted for project

SALT LAKE CITY — Conservation groups say state law was violated when the Utah Community Impact Fund Board granted nearly $28 million in public money to fund a planned railway to ship oil from the Uinta Basin to other states.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Living Rivers filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City asserting the movement of money to the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition to facilitate development of the railway was unlawful. The coalition is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

“This money is meant to help repair damage done by the fossil fuel industry, not subsidize it,” said Wendy Park, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The board is supposed to help rural communities build health centers, libraries and other community facilities. Instead it’s giving gifts to private oil companies and buying more pollution.”

Under state law, the funds administered by the board must go toward public projects that help communities deal with harms from mineral development on federal public lands, according to the groups.

They contend the proposed 85-mile Uinta Basin Railway would lead to a significant increase in oil extraction in the region, with numerous detrimental impacts to the environment, public health and infrastructure.

“The Uinta Basin Railway has been designed for one thing only — oil,” said John Weisheit, conservation director at Living Rivers. “The railroad ends at two places, a major oil producer’s doorstep and the middle of a remote drilling field.”

Weisheit added that the region is already troubled by air pollution and the effects of oil production.

“I took a trip on the White River,” he said. “You could smell the hydrogen sulfide in the air as you go down the river and there were these funky oil seeps. It was kind of gross.”

Beyond that, Weisheit added, the funding stream is just wrong.

“There are more urgent things to be spending money on than helping oil corporations to become more competitive.”

Efforts to reach representatives of the fund for comment were unsuccessful.

Amy Joi O’Donoghue

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