Protest planned Saturday in Glenwood Springs over U.S. Forest Service’s Uinta Railway decision

Heated tanker cars roll west through Glenwood Springs in fall 2022.
John Stroud/Post Independent

A planned protest in front of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) offices in downtown Glenwood Springs on Saturday is aimed at convincing the Biden Administration and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to cancel a permit for the proposed Uinta Basin Railway for transporting hot crude oil.

The U.S. Forest Service in July rejected objections to the proposed new rail line in a section of roadless forest in Utah. That decision came after the federal Surface Transportation Board last year approved construction of nearly 100 miles of new railroad tracks in northeast Utah, called the Uinta Railroad.

The line is to be used to transport extracted waxy crude oil from Utah through Colorado on the existing Union Pacific line and to refineries in the east. The route follows the Colorado River through western Colorado, Glenwood Springs, Glenwood Canyon and the river’s headwaters in Eagle and Grand counties.

Crude oil is already transported along the rail line, but the recent decisions authorize up to 185,000 crude-oil cars to use the UP’s Kyune-Denver line each year, representing a 20-fold increase from levels approved in 2015.

The local environmental group 350 Roaring Fork and the Stop the Uinta Basin Railway Coalition are planning a demonstration in front of the USFS offices at Ninth Street and Grand Avenue from noon-1 p.m. on Saturday to call attention to the issue. 

“The project would be a climate and environmental disaster, bringing up to 10, 2-mile-long trains of heated crude oil from Utah through Glenwood Canyon — threatening derailments, oil spills, explosions and forest fires,” the group said in a news release. 

The USFS decision served to grant the railway a permit for an 88-mile stretch of rail in Utah, but Glenwood Canyon would be the conduit for what the group said would be a quadrupling of oil production in the Uinta Basin, “adding 53-million tons of CO2 to our climate emergency,” the release states.

The city of Glenwood Springs has also joined other area municipalities and counties in filing an amicus brief calling for the Surface Transportation Board decision to be overturned.

The brief argues that the decision and its underlying Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) are critically flawed, asks for the decision to be reversed and for the EIS to be redone with more attention on the impacts to Colorado.

“A glaring inadequacy of the EIS is the claim that wildfire risk in the downline area is ‘not significant,’ which completely ignores real-world evidence,” Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes said in October when the brief was filed. “Most alarming is the complete lack of consideration for the extreme fire risk, and potentially catastrophic environmental and economic impacts that would occur if there were a spill.”

Godes has been invited to be one of the featured speakers on Saturday. Similar events are planned in Denver, Boulder, Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C. 

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