The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will consider an aspect of an appellate court decision involving the rejection of a permit for the proposed 85-mile Uinta Basin Railway that would connect the basin to the national railway system.

While the court said it will not review all components of the District of Columbia’s U.S. Court of Appeals decision in August 2023, it will consider the legality of the ruling which said the Surface Transportation Board erred in failing to analyze the resulting upstream drilling impacts to the environment and downstream refining impacts on Gulf Coast communities.

“It’s disappointing the Supreme Court took up this case, but the appellate court’s decision on this destructive project is legally sound and should ultimately stand,” said Wendy Park, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The proposal for the Uinta Basin Railway cut corners from the start but federal laws are now catching up with this climate and environmental catastrophe. That will prevent this disastrous railway from being built.”

The project by the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition is seeking an alternative to trucking the region’s signature waxy crude oil to market. It cannot be piped because of it viscous nature and has to remain heated to stay in liquid form. As of now, the primary way to get it to refineries is by truck — which the coalition asserts is costly, causes road damage, air pollution and inevitable crashes of tanker trucks.

Transport by railway would provide an ideal alternative and facilitate a larger market for the waxy crude, they say.

“We are optimistic that the Supreme Court will recognize the importance of this project for our community and the broader state economy,” said Keith Heaton, director of the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition. “The railway is not just about moving goods; it’s about securing a prosperous, sustainable future for our communities.”

Project backers say a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could ultimately shape the destiny of large-scale infrastructure projects across the the country — not just in Utah — related to how they are evaluated and permitted.

From the start, the proposal has been met with stiff controversy and scrutiny.

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As reported in The Colorado Sun, Colorado’s elected officials have been in an uproar given the amount of crude that would pass through their state — as much as five billion gallons a year along a route that in part traces the Colorado River corridor. Eagle County, Colorado, in fact, teamed up with environmental groups in litigation to derail the project.

Both Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, crafted amendments to federal spending bills that would bypass U.S. Supreme Court approval and instead congressionally elevate the Uinta Basin Railway project as necessary in the arena of national interest.

The Curtis amendment, HR4820, mandated the timely construction and completion of the railway by congressional ratification and approval of all 10 authorizations, permits, verifications, extensions, biological opinions, incidental take statements and any 12 other approvals or orders issued pursuant to federal law to get the railway running at full capacity. It was ruled out of order.

On Monday, Curtis reacted to the news about the Uinta Basin Railway project.

“Utahns are deeply frustrated with the unnecessary barriers that energy projects face for approval. Litigious groups have weaponized NEPA to endlessly delay energy projects like oil, gas, wind, solar, nuclear, etc.,” Curtis said. “I look forward to the Supreme Court considering the intended scope of this law, and I will continue to advocate in Congress for permitting reform to unlock our affordable, reliable, and clean resources.”

Lee’s amendment, also citing national interest, requires that after the act’s implementation, a 21-day deadline will be established requiring that all necessary permits and verifications be issued to facilitate the construction of the railway.

“This critical piece of infrastructure is an important economic development project that will create jobs and provide a higher quality of life to the local communities, including the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation,” the language reads.

On Monday, Lee said the case the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear — the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition vs. Eagle County — presents a rare opportunity to clarify the scope of environmental reviews.


“Striking a balance between environmental protections and timely infrastructure development is essential,” he said. “I am hopeful the court will set a precedent that ensures reasonable environmental review, supporting both the environment and economic growth.”

Environmental groups cite potential irreparable harm to wildlife, front line communities along the proposed route and the risk of oil spills in a critical water way — all at the expense of facilitating the use of fossil fuels.

“The Uinta Basin Railway threatens public health, as well as treasured landscapes and waterways. A derailment would carry immeasurable harm.” said Sierra Club Utah Chapter director Luis Miranda.

But project proponents are hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will act prudently and make what they say is the right decision.

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