#Colorado lawmakers seek suspension of #Utah oil train project: Senator Bennet and Representative Neguse cite East Palestine derailment in calling for further review of Uinta Basin Railway Project — Colorado Newsline

The Union Pacific railroad along the Colorado River through Glenwood Canyon is pictured on Sept. 2, 2021. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newsline website (David O. Williams):

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado on Monday wrote a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to formally suspend federal authorization of a Utah rail project that will send up to five, two-mile-long oil trains a day along the Colorado River, under the Continental Divide at Winter Park, and through downtown Denver.

Citing “ongoing concerns about the risks to Colorado’s communities, water, land, air, and climate from the Uinta Basin Railway Project,” Bennet and Neguse noted the U.S. Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture, has yet to issue a special use authorization for construction of the 88-mile railway that would run through the Ashley National Forest in Utah and connect the oil fields in the northeastern part of that state to the nation’s main rail network.

“We urge you to formally suspend any decision on that authorization until a supplemental review is conducted to fully evaluate the effects of this project on Colorado’s local communities and environment,” the Bennet-Neguse letter states. “This review is especially critical in light of the recent train derailment and environmental disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, which has laid bare the threat of moving hazardous materials by rail.”

A Norfolk Southern freight train derailed on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, leading to the toxic release of vinyl chloride.

The Forest Service last July approved the Utah project but still must issue a special use permit, and the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which oversees the nation’s railroads, gave the Utah project the nod more than a year ago despite a dissenting vote from STB Chairman Martin Oberman. It’s estimated the new railway will enable up to 4.6 billion gallons of waxy crude oil a year to travel Colorado’s Central Corridor rail line on its way to Gulf Coast refineries.

“These trains would run for over 100 miles directly alongside the headwaters of the Colorado River — a vital water supply for nearly 40 million Americans, 30 tribal nations, millions of acres of agricultural land, and a main driver of our state’s recreation and tourism economies,” the letter states. “The river is already in crisis, unable to provide the water needed to meet demand.”

Bennet and Neguse, both Democrats, write in their letter that the Forest Service’s own “flawed” projections predict at least one oil spill derailment every four years in Colorado, with heated oil tanker cars likely to spark wildfires in remote canyons, leading to further mudslides like the ones that have plagued Glenwood Canyon — frequently shutting down Interstate 70.

Neguse’s 2nd Congressional District, which stretches from Eagle County in the west to the northern Front Range in the east, has seen some of the state’s largest wildfires, including the Grizzly Creek fire in Glenwood Canyon in 2020.

“Folks in my district — in communities along the proposed railway — are deeply concerned about this project, and I share their concerns,” Neguse told Colorado Newsline. “The recent toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, serves as yet another reminder of the potential damage these freight trains can cause. That is precisely why Sen. Bennet and I are calling on Secretary Vilsack to suspend any decision authorizing the construction of the Uinta Basin Railway until a full evaluation can be completed. For the wellbeing of Coloradans and everyone involved, we must adequately account for all possible consequences before moving forward in any manner.” 

Bennet in an email to Colorado Newsline criticized environmental reviews to this point.

“The environmental reviews conducted thus far have been deeply flawed. Especially in light of what happened in Ohio, the federal government should be focused on a thorough evaluation of the risks of derailment,” Bennet told Colorado Newsline. “A derailment of this train could ignite a wildfire or severely contaminate the Colorado River, which is already in crisis. The absolute last thing the federal government should do is finance this project with taxpayer money.”

A public good?

As first reported by the Colorado Sun, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition in eastern Utah last month approved the Uinta Basin Railway seeking up to $2 billion in tax-exempt private activity bonds allocated by the U.S. Department of Transportation in order to fund the now nearly $3 billion rail spur being built exclusively for oil shipments. Those bonds in the past have funded public benefits such as Front Range highway improvements and passenger rail in Florida.

Allocation of PABs to fund an oil rail spur, critics say, would be unprecedented.

“I have to presume there’s something in there that (the tax-exempt funding) has to be for a public good,” said Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr, whose county is suing to stop the Uinta Basin Railway on environmental grounds. “And, for right now, under the Biden administration anyway, pulling more oil out of the ground and shipping it 2,000 miles for processing does not represent a public good.”

Scherr added a “told you so” when asked about the Ohio chemical spill, which has ignited a national debate over rail safety in recent weeks, and expressed his disagreement with Grand County commissioners who recently questioned the value of Eagle County’s legal challenge.

Drone footage shows the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 6, 2023 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video released by the NTSB. NTSBGov/Handout via REUTERS

Representatives of Utah’s Seven County Infrastructure Coalition and the Uinta Basin Railway did not return emails and social media messages seeking comment on the Bennet-Neguse letter and Bennet’s separate opposition to using tax-exempt PABs to fund the oil rail project.

“This is a pretty momentous occasion to approve a resolution for a project this big,” coalition chairman Casey Hopes said after the Feb. 9 vote at the Utah Capitol. “And I appreciate all the work that’s gone in on the back end from so many in the room … We’re looking forward to the day when we get to ride the first train out of the Uinta Basin.”

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah also is a fan of the project, stating Feb. 16 on Twitter: “The Uinta Basin Railway will be key to the region’s economic future. Met with Duchesne County Commissioner Greg Todd and County Recorder & (Utah Association of Counties) President Shelly Brennan for an update on the railway project. Grateful for their efforts to foster further economic development.” Romney is joined by fellow Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee in backing the project, which would send up to 350,000 barrels of oil a day through Colorado.

Vilsack last summer declined to discuss the Uinta Basin Railway: “You know, this is currently in litigation. Folks are raising questions about the Surface Transportation Board’s decision, and it’s probably inappropriate for me to comment too much about this.”

Hazardous materials would quadruple

The active Central Corridor line through Grand Junction and Glenwood Canyon cuts through the northwestern corner of Eagle County and follows the Colorado River into Grand County, where it then travels through the Continental Divide at the state-owned Moffat Tunnel at Winter Park.

“While the State Legislature does not have any legal jurisdiction over this decision, as an Eagle County resident myself and a legislator who represents thousands of constituents that could be impacted by these impending decisions across multiple counties in my district, I am terribly concerned,” state Sen. Dylan Roberts of Avon said in an email. “In a time where our water is more precious than ever, it seems completely contrary to common sense to risk contamination of the headwaters of the Colorado River in order to transport more fossil fuels in a hazardous and expensive way.”

Roberts said he’s working with Western Slope colleagues on a letter to federal representatives, the U.S. Department of Transportation and others to express those concerns in the coming week. Scherr confirmed Eagle County will be a party to that letter.

Part of Eagle County’s legal challenge is the fear that the dramatic increase in trains carrying hazardous materials through the Denver area will put pressure on Union Pacific to reopen its long-dormant (but not abandoned) Tennessee Pass Line, which connects to the Central Corridor at Dotsero and travels along the Eagle and Arkansas rivers to Pueblo.

“I personally strongly call on those in the power to make these decisions to rethink (the Uinta Basin) proposal and to take the use of Tennessee Pass off the table in light of the East Palestine disaster and the acute water crisis Colorado and the West currently faces,” Roberts added.

The Denver Office of Transportation and Infrastructure recently produced a report predicting that the number of rail cars with hazardous materials traveling through Denver would quadruple over the next three to four years, largely due to the Uinta Basin Railway.

“I am deeply concerned about rail safety in Colorado, and in Denver in particular, since it is a rail hub in a heavily populated area,” Denver mayoral candidate and state Sen. Chris Hansen, a Democrat, told Colorado Newsline in a text. Hansen has been a champion of renewable energy in the Legislature. “The tragic accidents in Ohio reinforce the urgency to improve safety rules, and I will be looking at state and local options and advocate for improved federal rules.”

Ted Zukoski, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity — an environmental group also suing to stop the Uinta Basin Railway — questioned the federal government helping to fund an oil freight project by covering 70% of the project with tax-exempt bonds.

“If you look at the list of projects that have been funded that have gotten the DOT’s approval to issue tax-exempt bonds, they are projects that benefit the general public — mass transit projects, bridge repair projects,” Zukoski said. “Anybody can use those projects and they’re a benefit to the general public. But this is a rail line that is projected to carry one product out of the basin, which is oil. So this would be a huge taxpayer subsidy to the oil industry at a time when we should be weaning ourselves off oil to combat the climate crisis.”

Zukoski points to one of President Joe Biden’s first acts in office in January 2021 when he signed an executive action on climate change: “This president announced a policy on Day One in his office of combating the climate crisis. And it is incompatible with combating the climate crisis to be shoveling money to a single purpose oil railroad.”

The East Palestine derailment and chemical spill has prompted bipartisan railroad safety reform efforts in Congress in the form of the Railway Safety Act as cleanup crews take drastic actions to mitigate the impacts of the ongoing disaster. Despite record profits, the nation’s four Class 1 freight railroads have slashed staffing and, critics say, cut corners on safety measures.

Registration is now open for Water Education Colorado’s 2023 Water Fluency class! This professional development course is designed for anyone interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of #Colorado #water management and protection — @WaterEdCO

Photo credit: Water Education Colorado

Click the link to learn more and to register on the Water Education Colorado website:

Water Fluency

Lead with confidence

The WEco Water Fluency Program is a professional development course designed for anyone interested in gaining an in-depth understanding of Colorado water management and protection. This includes non-water professionals in leadership roles intersecting with water, as well as water professionals who are newer to the field or the state of Colorado or who want to gain a broader view of the issues beyond their unique niche. Past participants have included elected officials, city/county staff, community and business leaders, special districts staff, board members for water organizations, educators, and more.

Water is critical for every aspect of community vibrancy — from industry and commerce to agriculture, tourism, health and environment. But it isn’t always clear how water policy and management decisions trickle down to other sectors. Developing tools for navigating water management and policy issues, Water Fluency graduates take the language of water into their fields to lead with new confidence.

Registration for Water Fluency 2023 is now open!

Learn more about the 2023 program and sign up here.

Seven Women Who Made the World Better for Birds and People: We’re giving a major hat tip to these die-hard conservationists, because every month should be Women’s History Month — Audubon #WomensHistoryMonth2023

Rachel Carson in 1940. By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – This image originates from the National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Serviceat this pageThis tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing.See Category:Images from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.http://training.fws.gov/history/carson/carson.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=277288

Click the link to read the article on the Audubon website (from March 31, 2016, Emily Silber). Here’s an excerpt:

When we hear the word “naturalist,” we often think of Charles Darwin and his theories, John Muir, the “Father of National Parks,” and of course, John James Audubon. But let’s not forget the women who rallied to preserve the natural realm. From creating the first avian field guide, to ending the feather trade, to dying in pursuit of birds, these seven femmes prove that the history of incredible women transcends any single month.

Ornithologist and artist [{:en:Genevieve Estelle Jones|Genevieve Estelle Jones]]. By Anonymous – https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/06/27/americas-other-audubon/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76049757

Genevieve Estelle Jones


Ohio native Genevieve Estelle Jones was a self-taught scientific illustrator christened the “other Audubon.” After seeing some of Audubon’s paintings at an exhibition, Jones decided to draw the nests and eggs of the 130 bird species nesting in Ohio at the time. But before she could finish, she died from typhoid fever at age 32. Her family spent the next seven years completing the hand-colored plates, of which 90 copies were made. Only 26 still exist.

Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna Hall

1858-1960 and 1864-1944

This two-woman dream team was responsible for taking down the 19th-century plume trade and establishing the National Audubon Society. Appalled by the number of birds being killed in the name of fashion, Hemenway, an impassioned amateur naturalist, and her cousin Hall, persuaded their socialite friends to boycott the trade and protect the wildlife behind it. Ultimately, they recruited 900 women to join the fight, and gave rise to an establishment that, a century later, has grown to 1 million members and supporters strong.

Florence Merriam Bailey, maker of the first known bird guide, in New Mexico, 1901. Photo: Vernon Bailey Collection/American Heritage Center/University of Wyoming

Florence Merriam Bailey


American nature writer and ornithologist Florence Merriam Bailey was a jane of all trades. Not only did she work with the National Audubon Society during its early years, she is also credited for writing the first known bird guide, Birds Through an Opera Glass, published in 1889. A true pioneer in the field, Merriam protested the mistreatment, killing, and trade of feathered animals. Her legacy still remains in the form of a subspecies of the California Mountain Chickadee, Parus gambeli baileyae, that was named in her honor.

Rachel Carson


Rachel Carson is most famous for her book Silent Spring, in which she bared the sins of the pesticide industry. In her later writings, the author and activist continued to examine the relationship between people and nature, questioning whether human beings are truly the dominant authority. Needless to say, she was an outspoken advocate for the environment and one of the greatest social revolutionaries of her time.

Frances Hamerstrom Position title:1907-1998. Photo credit: University of Wisconsin — Madison

Frances Hamerstrom


This female ornithologist dedicated the majority of her life to just one kind of bird: The Greater Prairie-chicken. Frances Hamerstrom headed a research team that ultimately saved the eccentric species from extinction in Wisconsin. She helped identify the ideal habitat for prairie-chickens, and was also one of the first to put colored leg bands on wild birds—a technique that has helped reveal important information on bird behavior through the decades.

Phoebe Snetsinger. Photo credit: Ornithology: The Science of Birds

Phoebe Snetsinger


When faced with the grim diagnosis of melanoma, 50-year-old Phoebe Snetsinger turned her life upside down: She went from being a housewife to racing around the globe as a competitive birder. Despite being beaten and raped in Papua New Guinea, Snetsinger never gave up on her passion. In 1995, she broke a world record by being the first person to spot more than 8,000 species of birds. A short time later she died in a bus crash while birding in Madagascar. But she will always be celebrated for living life with absolute fearlessness.

These women are just a few of the heros who forged the path for the modern-day bird-conservation movement. Today’s ornithologists, birders, and activists certainly match their passion and dedication. In fact, in 2011, of the 47 million birdwatchers in the United States, more than half were women. Between women spearheading sustainable projects around the world, Audubon’s standout conservationists, and badass chicks who love to bird . . . our avians are in very good hands.   

Feds suspend measures that were meant to boost #water levels at #drought-stricken #LakePowell — CNN #FlamingGorge #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #snowpack (March 8, 2023)

West snowpack basin-filled map March 7, 2023 via the NRCS.

Click the link to read the article on the CNN website (Ella Nilsen). Here’s an excerpt:

Starting Tuesday [March 7, 2023], the US Bureau of Reclamation will suspend extra water releases from Utah’s Flaming Gorge reservoir – emergency measures that had served to help stabilize the plummeting water levels downstream at Lake Powell, the nation’s second largest reservoir…

The decision to suspend the monthly water releases, which were slated to continue through April, comes in the wake of a winter that has brought well above-average snowfall and precipitation in much of the West, which state and federal officials are hoping will buy them some more time as they scramble to come to an agreement on significant water usage cuts from the Colorado River Basin. The suspension of Flaming Gorge releases was initially requested by four states in the upper Colorado River Basin – Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. The system is like a water loan program from Flaming Gorge to Lake Powell “in times of crisis,” said Chuck Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.

“With snowpack in the upper Colorado River system running upwards of 130% of the 30-year median, we have a unique opportunity – perhaps once-a-decade opportunity – to repay the loan,” Cullom told CNN. “Aridity is our present and future and we’re trying to adapt to this unique set of circumstances.”

Map credit: AGU