Two stories today illustrate again the growing appetite of federal alphabet agencies to grab more power, even if that power is not included in their statutory authority.
First, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed new rules governing the de-orbiting of the upper stages of rockets by commercial launch companies.
The FAA is proposing a new rule requiring commercial space companies to dispose of their rocket upper stages to limit the creation of more space debris. Five disposal methods are allowed: a controlled or uncontrolled deorbit within certain time limits, putting the stage into a less congested orbit or sending it into an Earth-escape orbit, or retrieving it. A 90-day public comment period will begin once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register.
Though this “appears to implement the updated U.S. Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices issued in 2019,” it upgrades it from a “practice” that the government requests companies to follow to a “rule” they must follow. It also expands the power of the FAA to regulate commercial rocket companies, setting a new precedent of control that I guarantee with time will expand further.
Not to be outdone in this power grab, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) added its own new satellite rules to the satellite licenses of two constellations run by the companies Iceye and Planet. The rules however have nothing to do with regulating the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is the FCC’s sole purpose according to the law that created it:
The FCC issued authorizations Aug. 31 to Iceye and Planet, updating their licenses to add new satellites. Iceye, which operates a constellation of synthetic aperture radar imaging satellites, added eight satellites to its license, while Planet added seven of its upcoming Pelican high-resolution imaging satellites to its constellation.
Both licenses now include provisions requiring the companies to coordinate with the National Science Foundation (NSF) “to achieve a mutually acceptable agreement to mitigate the impact of its satellites… on optical ground-based astronomy.” The companies are required to report to the FCC annually whether they have reached a coordination agreement with the NSF and what steps they have taken to mitigate the effects of their satellites on astronomy, unless the NSF concludes they have no concerns about those spacecraft.
In other words, the FCC now thinks its power includes protecting astronomical research, favoring that particular group over commercial space companies. Once again, mitigating satellite interference with astronomy might be a good idea, but where does the FCC get the authority to impose such mitigation on satellite companies? It has no such authority by law.
These stories demonstrate once again the uncontrolled expansion of power by the federal bureaucracy, on all levels. Just because something might be a good idea should not be a reason to allow unelected federal regulatory agencies to require it. We are allowing it, however, in more and more ways across more and more federal agecnies.
The U.S. was founded as a nation of laws and limited government. It is that no longer. Instead, we are now a nation of unlimited government that no law controls.
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