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Our oppressive federal government really does want to squash SpaceX

Targeted by the government for destruction
Targeted by the government for destruction

In order to understand the full context of the FAA’s environmental reassessment of SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas and its approval of Starship/Superheavy launches there, it is important to take a closer look at the entire document [pdf] that was released on June 13, 2022. While that approval will now allow SpaceX to proceed, the nature of the document shows us that this government permission has been given very reluctantly, and that there are factions in the federal bureaucracy that are working hard to lay the groundwork to block it at first opportunity.

First, what did the reassessment conclude about the impact of future heavy-lift rocket launches at Boca Chica?

In summary, the FAA concluded that SpaceX’s planned operations “would not result in significant environmental consequences.” [emphasis mine] It then proceeded to provide many pages of analysis for each of the following issues, with almost all coming to the same exact conclusion [emphasis mine]:

  • Air quality: “In summary, the Proposed Action is not expected to result in significant impacts to air quality.”
  • Climate: In summary, the Proposed Action GHG [green house gas] emissions are not significant and would not cause any appreciable addition of GHGs into the atmosphere.”
  • Noise: “The Proposed Action is not expected to result in significant noise impacts.”
  • Visual effects: “In summary, the Proposed Action is not expected to result in significant visual impacts.”
  • Public use of parks and recreation areas: “In summary, the FAA has determined the Proposed Acton would not result in more than a minimal (i.e., de minimis) physical use of [this] resource.”
  • Water resources: “In summary, the Proposed Action would not result in significant floodplain encroachment [and] would not result in significant impacts to floodplains.”
  • Biological resources: “While the Proposed Action would adversely affect critical habitat, the small amount of habitat that would be affected by the Proposed Action would not substantially affect the recovery of the piping plover and red knot or the breeding and wintering grounds of migratory birds. The USFWS’s BO [biological opinion] … concludes that the Proposed Action is not likely to adversely modify piping plover designated critical habitat.”
  • Coastal resources: “”The Proposed Action is not expected to result in significant impacts to coastal resources.”
  • Land use: “In summary, the Proposed Action is not expected to result in significant land use impacts because the Proposed Action is consistent with existing uses of land, would not change land use, and would occur according to existing plans and procedures in place.”
  • Hazardous materials, solid waste, pollution: “The Proposed Action would not result in significant impacts regarding hazardous materials, solid waste, and pollution prevention.”
  • Natural resources and energy supply: “In summary, the Proposed Action is not expected to result in significant impacts on natural resources.”
  • Socioeconomics, Environmental Justice, and Children’s Environmental Health and Safety: “The Proposed Action would not result in significant impacts related to children’s environmental health or safety.”

Do you see a pattern? Essentially, almost nothing SpaceX is doing will harm the environment or cause serious pollution.

In only one case, “cultural resources”, did the reassessment note some harm occurring to some historic archeological sites — mostly due to the loud noises and vibrations caused by launches — but even here it accepted the reality that these adverse effects were controllable and relatively minor, and thus concluded “The Proposed Action would not result in significant impacts on historical, architectural, archeological, or cultural resources.”

Despite these conclusions, and despite the empirical evidence from Florida over more than seven decades that rocket launches and spaceports not only do not harm the environment they also protect it and wildlife, the reassessment still required from SpaceX in each of these categories an enormous number of actions to “mitigate and monitor” these non-existing consequences. For example, in the case of biological resources and the two endangered species involved, the government demanded 53 different actions from SpaceX, including continuous and endless reports to the government, the right of the government to re-analyze things at any time, and finally the right of the government to shut things down whenever it chooses to.

It also required SpaceX to pay-off two different local environmental organizations with annual $5,000 donations.

Moreover, the FAA emphasized forcefully that this positive reassessment did not really give SpaceX the right to proceed. In order to continue construction, SpaceX would still need to make sure at all times it did not violate seven different regulatory laws — such as the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Wildlife Refuge Act, the Fishery Conservation and Management Act — and make sure it had federal and state government approval under these acts at all times.

Finally, the FAA made it very clear that SpaceX still needs to apply for launch licenses, and based on the FAA language in this reassessment, the government intends to dole out those launch licenses piecemeal and slowly.

You must always kowtow to government officials

Without question many of these government demands on SpaceX have sincere good intentions, and are meant to help protect the local environment and wildlife while also preventing pollution. However, their number — and draconian demands for action even when the agencies admit SpaceX is doing no harm — demonstrate an overbearing desire of the federal bureaucracy to impose its power on a private company, regardless of substance.

For example, this was a supposed to be a reassessment, focused on determining if there were any significant and different environmental consequences from Starship/Superheavy launches at Boca Chica rather than the Falcon 9. The report does not do this at all. Instead, the bureaucrats who wrote it focus entirely at trying to find justification for shutting down all launches.

These bureaucrats show their animus in other ways. The report references a number of local regulations, and insists that SpaceX do due diligence to not violate those regulations. The report however also admits how the local authorities generally have had no problem with anything SpaceX is doing. These local communities — the most impacted by SpaceX’s operations — are not bothered by any of this, and don’t wish to block SpaceX in any serious way. Only the distant and haughty federal government stands in the way, for both emotional and ideological reasons.

To put it bluntly, this is an intellectually dishonest document, of the highest order.

It thus appears that — even though Musk announced today that the first orbital test flight of Starship will occur in July — SpaceX operations out of Boca Chica will be complex and difficult, badly hampered at all times by an imperious federal bureaucracy that is hostile to it. It also appears that SpaceX has recognized this sad reality. In its proposal submitted for this report, it limited the number orbital launches from Boca Chica to only five per year, far less than the proposed monthly test launches that Elon Musk said earlier this year they planned to do.

In other words, while SpaceX will likely continue some tests and construction in Boca Chica, unless someone in power soon removes the boot of the federal government from the face of SpaceX — crushing its operations in Texas — it must reduce what it does there. It will shift the bulk of its Starship/Superheavy launches to its facility in Florida, once that is up and running.

The result will be less prosperity to south Texas, a region that for decades has been depressed and poverty-stricken.

The house-cleaning must be utterly merciless
The house-cleaning must be utterly merciless

This sad possibility I think might finally be recognized by the general population in this generally poor and largely Hispanic community. In a special congressional election yesterday for this southern Texas region, the Republican candidate, Mayra Flores, won in an upset a seat that has been in the control of Democrats for decades.

While Flores’ small victory against the Democratic Party machine — which also runs the federal bureaucracy that is trying to squash SpaceX — will not do much to change anything in that federal bureaucracy, it signals a major earthquake coming in November. Something must be done to neuter this federal leviathan that is choking the people of the United States. Nor can that something be mild or simple. It requires a complete and pitiless house-cleaning, so drastic that the screams of fury from Washington will be ear-piercing.

And if so, what a wonderful sound that would be for ordinary Americans presently being crushed by that government.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

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  • sippin_bourbon

    It all sets a precedent. It leaves the door open to future intervention should these uppity private space corps (or their vocal billionaire owners) get too full of themselves. Never forget who is really in charge here.

    People and companies should be be permitted to pollute the land. But there are laws for that on the books, with prohibitive fines. These required donations, which I am learning are a common outcome of some of these investigations, smell like payoffs.

    Right now I think they are wanting to pick winners and losers, or at least influence progress to favor others. My typical cynical opinion only.

    As I have said before, when they really want to slam the brakes on private space, you will see them impose a massive tax on launches/fees on launch licenses.

  • Ray Van Dune

    I applaud what you have to say, and I would like to add an additional interpretation. It seems to me that the FAA is in effect saying to the Federal Government as a whole (and to the Democrat Party in particular), “We tried our best to make sure that if for any reason you want to shut this renegade down in the future, you have the tools!”

  • Ray Van Dune

    Musk has apparently announced the intention and ability to do an orbital launch in July, August, and once a month thereafter! Not sure why he phrased it that way, but it sure throws down the gauntlet to the NASASpaceflight crew, the majority of who said “Late December”! And to SES.

    Unfortunately, even SpaceX probably cannot make July 4th! That would be awesome!

  • sippin_bourbon

    Wow.. big typo
    “People and companies should be be NOT permitted to pollute the land”

  • Jeff Wright

    I guess I would make a good SCOTUS member in that I don’t know what “pollution” is.
    The skies can be full of Covid spores, ragweed pollen, Saharan sand, meteoritic dust and volcanic ash/gases-but it is only ‘pollution’ if it comes out of a pipe. La Brea tarpits/ valley of ten thousand smokes anyone?
    I also hated nature documentaries as a child-at the end they would reduce humanity to a mine or dump scene.

    Sorry Sir David, but if I only filmed animals eating and deficating-I could make them seem pretty wasteful too. Greens call us a virus on the body of the planet..volk? Sounds familiar.

  • Edward

    It is standard operating procedure for the FAA and FCC to license individual launches, even from Florida, but the adversarial tone of the FAA’s Environmental assessment suggests that the government is taking an adversarial rather than partnering relationship with SpaceX (what other companies are forced to fund environmental organizations, and are these the organizations that have sent trespassers onto SpaceX property and vandals onto other properties?). NASA is hiring SpaceX services, but it seems that other government agencies are reluctant.

    I now wonder whether Boeing chose to limit its Starliner services due to a similar adversarial relationship with the government.

  • BtB’s Original Mark

    William Safire’s words from 50 yrs ago are applicable to some anti-progress factions of the federal bureaucracy today: “we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club — the ‘hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.’”

    Many thanks to Mr. Z. For reading through that FAA Report.

  • MDN

    As usual I believe Elon is thinking 6 moves ahead of the bureaucracy. SpaceX bought two used deepwater oil platforms last year for a reason, and that is to pre-empt this kind of power play should it become too onerous. And while the bureaucracy may think it can still wield power with this development, I suspect that is merely an illusion because nothing says that SpaceX must remain a US based corporation subject to the follies of our bureaucratic brown shirts.

    So, if push comes to shove he’ll just move to a more supportive venue just as he moved the vast majority of SpaceX and Tesla from CA for TX. And again, he’s thinking 6 moves ahead, so since he already bought the platforms he most assuredly has already had initial conversations with numerous interested parties..

  • Concerned

    Bob—your summary of the report as intellectual dishonesty pretty much describes the modern Democratic Party and many of their supporters. To espouse their anti-American, anti-Constitutional, anti-common-sense beliefs requires a special kind of cognitive dissonance. Many of them are otherwise “nice” people. Sadly, only economic pain and suffering can open the eyes of many of these deluded folks and get them to stop supporting the power hungry oligarchs.

  • Star Bird

    I would like to strand all the Eco-Freaks into the Wilderness for month let them experence living in the Wild and not the fake pictures they get from the Sierra Club

  • BtB’s Original Mark

    Concerned – you are spot on with your characterization of the Democratic Party as having “Anti-American, anti-Constitutional, anti-common-sense beliefs (which) requires a special kind of cognitive dissonance”.
    However I would go further – the UniParty and the Supreme Court do not believe in a Constitutional Republic.
    Washington DC is in effect an Imperial Capital and the States are reduced to subservience in many political, economic & social areas.
    The Federal Legislative Branch has ceded many of its powers to the Imperial Presidency.
    The Constitution is defended only once in a blue moon by a handful of Republican Senators.

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