Environmental and Health Groups File to Intervene in Union Pacific Lawsuit

Press Release Contact:
Michael Lang, Conservation Director, Friends of the Columbia Gorge
503-490-3979 | Michael@GorgeFriends.org

Portland, OR – Friends of the Columbia Gorge (Friends), Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Columbia Riverkeeper filed a motion today to intervene in opposition to Union Pacific’s recent lawsuit in federal court seeking to exempt itself from the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act.

Read Motion to Intervene

In November, Wasco County Board of Commissioners denied Union Pacific’s application to build four miles of new tracks around the town of Mosier due to infringement of tribal treaty rights and violations of Wasco County’s National Scenic Area land use ordinance. Gorge counties are required by federal law to implement National Scenic Area land use ordinances. In December, Union Pacific appealed the Wasco County denial decision to the Columbia River Gorge Commission. Now, Union Pacific’s lawsuit seeks to bar the Gorge Commission from hearing this appeal, invalidate this decision denying the application and establish that the railroad is not subject to Gorge protection laws.

Union Pacific filed this lawsuit in federal court just months after it caused an oil train derailment and fire in Mosier, OR, a town within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The lawsuit was filed against the six Oregon members of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, members of the Wasco County Board of Commissioners, and the Wasco County planning director.

Read Union Pacific’s filing

“Friends of the Columbia Gorge and its allies are intervening to stop Union Pacific’s cynical attempt to circumvent federal laws that protect this national scenic treasure, its communities, and tribal treaty rights,” said Michael Lang, Friends’ Conservation Director. “Union Pacific has an appeal pending before the Columbia River Gorge Commission and that is the appropriate place to raise their arguments. It should not get away with trying an end-around the process.”

“Nine months ago, due to poor track maintenance, a Union Pacific crude oil train derailed and wreaked havoc upon our community,” said Arlene Burns, Mayor of Mosier. “Now the railroad wants to increase the number and length of trains timed to pass each other in opposite directions all along our waterfront and main street, which is the Columbia River Historic Highway 30. Mosier is the very heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Union Pacific should not be allowed to circumvent regional and federal laws protecting the Scenic Area and our local economy.”

“Union Pacific is not above the law. While UP wants to quash the rights of communities and sovereign nations, we and our partners will protect and defend the rights of all to a safe and healthy environment,” said Regna Merritt of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“Columbia River communities are under siege from massive fossil fuel infrastructure projects that threaten our water and safety. Union Pacific’s track expansion is part of the effort to turn the Columbia River into a fossil fuel highway,” said Lauren Goldberg, Staff Attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper. “We look forward to defending Columbia River communities from Union Pacific’s highly unpopular project.”

The Federal Railroad Administration determined that Union Pacific caused the oil train derailment and fire in Mosier last June by failing to properly inspect and maintain its tracks in the Columbia River Gorge. This latest litigation shows a continued pattern by the railroad to shirk its responsibility to follow federal laws protecting communities and the environment, and to not respect tribal treaty rights.