D.C. Circuit Finds U.S. Surface Transportation Board Failed to Take a ‘Hard Look’ at Utah Oil Rail Project’s Environmental Impacts Under NEPA

October 2023

Environmental, Energy & Climate Change Law and Regulation Reporter, Volume 4, Number 1

In an opinion filed on August 18, 2023, in consolidated petitions in Eagle County, Colorado v. U.S. Surface Transportation Board et al. and Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. U.S. Surface Transportation Board et al., the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) approval of the construction and operation of a new rail line transporting crude oil in the Uinta Basin in Utah (Railway or Project). The Court of Appeals found that STB’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Project, prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), failed to fully evaluate several environmental issues, including increase in greenhouse has (GHG) emissions, wildfire risks, and potential train derailments. The court also found that STB violated its own enabling act, the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (ICCT Act), when it “failed to weigh the [Railway’s] uncertain financial viability and the full potential for environmental harm against the transportation benefits it identified,” and granted the Project and exemption from STB’s formal application requirements to authorize the Project. The court vacated STB’s exemption order, EIS, and the Biological Opinion (BiOp) issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and remanded the matter to STB for further analysis.

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