Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D) is asking the Biden administration to pump the brakes on a railway project that he warns could contaminate the Colorado River basin if a train derailment spills crude oil into the famed river’s headwaters.
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack dated Monday, Bennet asked the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service not to authorize the construction of a railway through the Ashley National Forest.
Bennet is raising the alarm over “the risks to Colorado’s communities, water, land, air, and climate” from the Uinta Basin Railway Project, which would connect shale oil fields in Utah’s Uinta Basin to the national rail network, sending up to 350,000 barrels of oil a day through Colorado.
Bennet says this could set the stage for another environmental disaster on a scale similar to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which spewed toxic chemicals into the surrounding watershed that feeds into the Ohio River.
“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,” Bennet wrote in the letter, which was signed by Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse.
“A train derailment that spills oil in the headwaters of the river would be catastrophic not only to our state’s water supplies, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation assets but also the broad river basin,” the lawmakers warned.
The project, if approved, would enable the shipment of more than 4 billion gallons of crude oil per year from Utah to the Gulf Coast, allowing as many as five, two-mile-long trains to travel the railway every day, Bennet and Neguse wrote.
The Colorado lawmakers say the Forest Service advanced the project “based on a deeply flawed environmental and risk analysis that understated its potential danger.”
But they noted that even that analysis estimated the risk of a derailment in Colorado would double if the project were built and the state could see an oil spill every four years.
Bennet and Neguse want the Agriculture Department and the Forest Service to work with federal agencies to more fully review the dangers of oil spills and fires posed by the rail project.
“The disaster unfolding in East Palestine, Ohio is a terrible reminder that train derailments do occur, and that the damage from transporting hazardous materials by rail can be catastrophic,” they wrote.
“We urge you to prevent this dangerous project from moving forward until a robust supplemental review can be completed,” they urged Vilsack.