On August 18, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit invalidated the federal Surface Transportation Board’s approval and environmental review of an 88-mile rail line intended to facilitate new oil and gas development in Utah and transport billions of gallons of waxy crude oil out of Utah’s Uinta Basin annually. Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell represented Eagle County, Colorado in the successful legal challenge to the Board’s approval of the $1 billion dollar rail project, which would have caused the addition of up to 18 miles of trains hauling oil each day on an existing line through the Rocky Mountains within feet of the Colorado River.
In a definitive and detailed legal opinion, the Court of Appeals found that the Board had failed to adequately consider the project’s “significant potential for environmental harm” in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act. Among Eagle County’s legal claims, the Court of Appeals agreed that the Board had failed to consider the downline environmental effects of transporting billions of gallons of oil through Colorado, including rail accidents along the Colorado River and the risk of wildfires posed by long, heavy oil trains. In addition, the Court of Appeals found that the Board’s authorization of the project violated its own rail statute by failing to adequately “weigh the project’s uncertain financial viability and the full potential for environmental harm against the transportation benefits it identified.”
Because of the significant deficiencies in the Board’s rail and environmental analyses, the Court of Appeals vacated the Board’s authorization of the project as well as the Board’s environmental review. The Court of Appeals’ decision can be downloaded here.