2020 Environmental Real Estate Issues

The United States Surface Transportation Board (STB) authorized construction of an 80-mile rail line in the Unita Basin in Utah, which would connect the Basin to the national rail network. Among the benefits, the line would allow transportation of oil produced in the Basin via rail; current transportation is by truck.

Petitions filed with the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit claimed STB did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other obligations when it issued the order authorizing construction of the rail line.

Inadequate Environmental Review
The DC Circuit agreed with many of the opponents’ arguments and reversed STB’s order. Among the deficiencies were STB’s “failures to (1) quantify reasonably foreseeable upstream and downstream impacts on vegetation and special-status species of increased drilling in the Uinta Basin and increased oil-train traffic along the Union Pacific Line, as well as the effects of oil refining on environmental justice communities [on] the Gulf Coast; (2) take a hard look at wildfire risk as well as impacts on water resources downline; and (3) explain the lack of available information on local accident risk…”  STB also “failed to weigh the Project’s uncertain financial viability and the full potential for environmental harm against the transportation benefits it identified.”

Impacts near Gulf Coast Refineries
STB estimated an increase in the Basin’s oil production of “up to 175,000 barrels/day,” with half of the increase going to refineries in Texas (Houston-Port Arthur) and 35% to refineries in Louisiana. The DC Circuit held that STB’s failure to consider the environmental effects on communities near Gulf Coast refineries, even though the nearest refinery is over 1,000 miles away, violated NEPA.

To see the opinion in Eagle County, Colorado v. STB https://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/5396DAC54F312EAD85258A0F00514C72/$file/22-1019-2013122.pdf