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Environmentalists sue FAA, demanding it shut down Boca Chica and Starship

Starship/Superheavy at T+4:02, just after the self-destruct command was issued
Starship/Superheavy at T+4:02, just after the self-destruct command
was issued on April 20, 2023. It also appears to be the fate of SpaceX’s
entire Boca Chica operation, if the environmental radicals get their way.

A group of environmental groups as well as a non-profit corporation calling itself the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, Inc, today filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration FAA), demanding it shut down SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility and block all further Superheavy/Starship launches.

You can read the lawsuit here [pdf]. Its essence is contained in these two paragraphs:

The area surrounding the SpaceX facility at Boca Chica is a biologically diverse and essential habitat area for many species, including federally protected wildlife and animals that are considered sacred to the Carrizo/Comecrudo People, such as the critically endangered ocelot. The SpaceX facility is smack in the middle of publicly owned conservation, park, and recreation lands, including a National Wildlife Refuge, two State Parks, a State Wildlife Management Area, and a State Coastal Preserve. These lands are of extraordinary conservation value for a range of federally and state lists wildlife and other protected species such as migratory birds. Bird species from both the Central and Mississippi flyways converge there, making it an essential wintering and stopover area for migratory birds as they move north and south each year.

SpaceX activities authorized in the FONSI/ROD [the environmental reassessment issued last year] have and will adversely affect the surrounding wildlife habitat and communities. In addition to harm from construction activities and increased vehicle traffic, rocket launches result in intense heat, noise, and light pollution. Furthermore, the rocket launches and testing result in explosions which spread debris across surrounding habitat and cause brush/forest fires — including one that recently burned 68 acres of adjacent National Wildlife Refuge. The FAA calls these explosions “anomalies,” but in fact they occur frequently, with at least 8 over the past 5 years. FAA acknowledged that many more such “anomalies” are expected over the next 5 years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that prior SpaceX rocket explosions harmed protected wildlife and designated habitat in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In other words, rockets and launch sites should never be placed inside wildlife refuges, because such activity is detrimental to wildlife.

A more false statement cannot be made. Under this conclusion the launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, which have been operating in the middle of a wildlife refuge now for more than six decades, should be shut down immediately. All the wildlife there must certainly be dead!

Wildlife at Cape Canaveral
The thriving wildlife at Cape Canaveral

This is of course not the case. In fact, the wildlife refuge at Cape Canaveral has been thriving since day one. The rocket launches, including many “explosions” of rockets using far more toxic fuels that Superheavy/Starship, have done nothing to harm that environment or wildlife. We have more than a half century of empirical data to prove it.

Moreover, the need for spaceports to have a large undeveloped area around them has done wonders for that wildlife. The Kennedy launch center’s existence has created this refuge, and protected it from development. The same will happen at Boca Chica, should SpaceX’s facility be allowed to expand as it wishes.

This lawsuit is filled with many such lies or other distortions of fact. In another example, it names a handful of specific of individual “visitors” to this region, saying that the launches are preventing them from enjoying the region. Tell that to the hundreds of thousands who came out to see the Starship/Superheavy launch, as well as the entire communities of Brownsville and the entire Rio Grande Valley who are seeing the first economic prosperity in decades because of SpaceX’s arrival. These people, who comprise the vast majority of the population, know that what little they are losing in access to these recreational areas — temporarily — is far outweighed by what they are getting in return.

Though I expect this lawsuit will fail in court, its existence is going to force the FAA to hold up any future launch permits until the case is settled or dismissed. Even then, it is likely that no launch permits will be issued because it appears those permits now require a sign-off from Fish & Wildlife, and that agency appears hand-in-glove with this suit. Right after the launch it issued a statement claiming the launch caused vast damage, even while admitting it could find no evidence of debris outside SpaceX property, or any harm to any wildlife.

Thus, even though SpaceX will likely be ready to launch in two months, as Elon Musk says, I expect it will be forced to sit on its hands, either in court or in the swamp in Washington. Such delays will make impossible the development of Starship/Superheavy in a timely manner. It might even make it impossible altogether, as long as SpaceX plans to continue testing it at Boca Chica.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the history of the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii, now blocked for years because of similar legal maneuvers by local indigenous Hawaiian activists and environmentalists. That telescope was supposed to begin construction in 2015 and be completed by around 2021. Today, in 2023, that construction has still not started, and appears permanently stalled.

Expect the same result now in Boca Chica, especially because the Democrats running the executive branch for Joe Biden will want that result. There might be a lot of people in the FAA on the side of SpaceX, but they will not be in charge.

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  • Call Me Ishmael

    “… look at the history of the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii …”

    I don’t think it’s quite that bad. The Hawaiian lunatics have lost in court, but it doesn’t matter because they have the connivance of the Hawaiian state government. These lunatics do not have the connivance of the Texas state government, nor are they likely to. If they try blocking roads around Boca Chica, they’ll have to deal with the Texas Rangers, in addition to all the local residents they’ve annoyed by interfering with their livelihoods.

  • pzatchok

    I did not see this coming. Not at all. I am just flabbergasted.

    Seriously what changed between the first launch permits and the next ones that are going to be given out?

  • I am surprised that this group had not already filed suit, even before April 20th. Maybe the local and state governments can get this suit moved a little more rapidly since it affects so much economically.

  • mpthompson

    Under this conclusion the launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, which have been operating in the middle of a wildlife refuge now for more than six decades, should be shut down immediately. All the wildlife there must certainly be dead!

    Yeah, someone better tell the bald eagles that are nesting within easy viewing from the roadways through the Cape.

  • Sayomara

    I many cases the agencies in question encourage these law suits because then it gives them an opening to do what they wanted to do anyways.

    That said Elon has done a really good job of winning these battles in a way that keeps him from going to open war with the federal bureaucracy. I don’t know what his next move is but I bet it involves lots and lots and lots of lawyer’s

  • Jeff Wright

    Now you know who Bezos’ 10,000 employees are…Boeing’s -Max woes keeps their legal too busy. ULA and Branson too busy looking for saps.

  • Gary H

    Automobiles, trucks and now trains are to be zero emissions in California. How can the climate alarmist allow frequent launches of fossil fuel based rockets?

  • Patrick Underwood

    From Wikipedia, GPS IIR-1 in 1997: “Debris from the explosion fell into the Atlantic Ocean and on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Some debris landed around the launch pad, and a small fire started. Other debris landed in the parking lot outside the complex blockhouse, destroying twenty cars and trucks that were located there. Two hundred and fifty tons of debris fell within 915 m (3,002 ft) of the launch pad, to include on the grounds of the nearby Air Force Space and Missile Museum. One piece of debris made a hole in a cable track, allowing smoke to enter the blockhouse.

    Personnel of the area around the launch site were advised to stay indoors, close windows, and turn off air conditioning systems as a precaution, as some vapors from the fuel could be irritant or toxic. The explosion was reported to have been felt 40 km (25 mi) away from the launch site, and damage to store windows 16 km (9.9 mi) away was reported.”

  • Star Bird

    When they would launch a Space Craft the Birds(Egrets and Herons)would fly all about but they always returned its just these Eco-Freaks want everything under their total control their total idiots

  • pzatchok

    The law suit was already fully written up and the organization was just waiting for a launch failure to maximize the effort and effect.

    A smart judge would look past the explosion and just view the actual damage done. Not the potential damage that they have no proof will actually happen.

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