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Texas state court rules in favor of activist lawsuit against SpaceX

The activists who sued SpaceX and local authorities, claiming the beach closures required during tests and launches at Boca Chica violate the Texas constitution, have had their lawsuit reinstated by a higher state court after a lower court had dismissed it.

Texas’ 13th district court of appeals ruled in favor of SaveRGV, the Sierra Club and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas in suits alleging that a 2013 state law allowing beach closures for space flight activities goes against the Open Beaches Amendment to the Texas Constitution.

In July 2022, Cameron County’s 445th District Court dismissed the coalition’s lawsuit, saying the organizations lacked standing in their complaint against Texas Land Commissioner Dr. Dawn Buckingham, the Texas Land Office, Cameron County and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The appeals court reversed that decision Thursday, allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

The lawsuit still must be litigated, so these activists have not yet won their case. However, this decision might prevent further beach closures while the case plays out in the courts, which would essentially shut down any further tests or launches at Boca Chica. If so, it will not matter if the FAA finally finishes its paperwork and approves a third test launch of Starship/Superheavy later this month. The launch will not be possible.

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  • Rocket J.

    SpaceX should’ve moved all the Superheavy stuff to Florida from the moment they were going operational. You have the range and all the necessary approvals for beach closures, etc there.

  • Edward

    Rocket J.,
    This may be possible, soon. NASA did not want SpaceX to use its Starship tower at pad 39A until there was a second manned launch pad, which SpaceX is building on the Space Force side, at Space Launch Complex 40, where SpaceX already has a second east coast Falcon 9 launch pad.

  • wayne

    “Elon Musk Denied $55 Billion in Tesla Compensation by Delaware Judge!”
    Viva Frei (2-1-24)

  • Milt

    At the discretion of whatever court will now hear this renewed litigation, it can if it chooses “prevent further beach closures while the case plays out in the courts.” Such an injunction, as Robert continues, “would essentially shut down any further tests or launches at Boca Chica. If so, it will not matter if the FAA finally finishes its paperwork and approves a third test launch of Starship / Superheavy later this month. The launch [and possibly any future launches] will not be possible.” Exactly.

    In the best case, the court could determine that due to the economic harm to SpaceX* that would result from suspending its operations at Boca Chica it would not enjoin them from conducting test launches while the litigation proceeds. This is possible, but not I think very likely. In the worst case, the court would not only prohibit any launches at Boca Chica during the litigation but rule in favor of the litigants and permanently ban beach closures — apparently as required by the Open Beaches Amendment to the Texas constitution — in the future.

    *Not to mention the irreparable harm to this nation’s space program.

    With rulings of this kind, it would truly be “game over” at Boca Chica, and Starship / Superheavy development could only pick up where it left off in Florida.

    The only glimmer of hope that I can see is that deep pocketed Mr. Musk might be able to put together a legal Dream Team that could somehow prevail in court. (How much “lawyering” can a hundred million or even billion dollars buy?) Otherwise, it’s call U-Haul and get ready to move everything out of Texas. In light of all of this, one has to ask, finally, how SpaceX’s legal team failed to see this kind of legal challenge coming, and why, exactly, they believed that the enabling legislation which gave them the go-ahead to set up shop at Boca Chica somehow trumped the Open Beaches provisions of the state constitution.

    The Texas constitution could of course be amended to accommodate operations such as SpaceX, but how long would that take, and would it be worth seeing the Boca Chica site sit idle while all of this happened?

  • Milt

    Apropos to the quote — often attributed to Lenin — that “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them,” the left has perfected the use of lawfare to the point that any and all parts of our traditional legal system are now being used to destroy the very culture and society that engendered it. Think in terms of a country whose institutions* have all been infected with AIDS, and our legal T-cells (radical lawyers and courts) have themselves become one of the primary vectors of its self-destruction.

    *Not least education and the media.

  • Dave Walden

    The irony is, Milt, that the courts are the ONLY means left to peacefully resolve the tragedy unfolding before our eyes! Proper exercise of “Federalism” is always an option, but – as in this case, the State of Texas itself is the plaintiff, err, defendant. I find I am losing the perspective to determine who is who in our legal morass!

  • Milt

    Robert —

    What would it mean, exactly, if SpaceX is enjoined from ever launching from Boca Chica again? Sure, they could move their operations to Florida, but how much would this cost and how long would it take?

    I am thinking that Elon Musk is probably one of the few persons on the planet who could absorb this kind of financial body blow — and has the tenacity to not just give up* — but what would be the probable cost to our national space effort? Two years worth of delay and confusion, at least?

    *Again, is it time for an Atlas Shrugged moment in this country — or in Texas?

    To Dave —

    Yes, I did think about the irony of our situation, and our burden as conservatives is a heavy one. First, we are trying to *preserve* our existing country / culture / society, and, critically, the rule of law, and it is always easier (just ask the radical left) to tear down something than to build. In trying to preserve our way of life, we must respect both the letter and the spirit of the law**, and not throw the baby out with the bath water. The left, on the other hand, *likes* dead babies, and lots of them. Thus their attempt to destroy the United States and its institutions — and its targeted individual enemies — through lawfare.

    **Including, probably, the rankling provisions of the Texas Constitution, should their high court interpret them to the detriment of SpaceX.

    One more perspective-challenging thought. According to the provisions of the Open Beaches Amendment, can the shores of the Rio Grande River be construed as ‘beaches,’ and is the Texas national guard therefore prohibited from closing them to illegal alien invaders?
    Just sayin’.

  • Milt: Your analysis is right on the money. I am anticipating at best a significant delay, or at worst a complete halt of all launches from Boca Chica, imposed by the courts. I am hoping I am wrong, but I can’t imagine with this court ruling local officials will be able to close any beaches in the next few months as this lawsuit plays out in court.

  • Jeff Wright

    Now I am hearing Peregrine was forced to re-enter—by Angry Astronaut

    You see more and more Green attacks on space

    I view space technology as sacred—and therefore call the Boca SpaceX facility sacred and do hereby forbid any nuisance lawsuits by Greens as a disrespectful attack on MY religion

    I think one or two Navaho plaintiffs were put up to this by Enviro-activists—the same ones who would like to stop hunting:

    Space industry has helped Natives

    Some might be offended by Navaho coal mines

    A god that worked

  • Edward

    Milt asked: “In light of all of this, one has to ask, finally, how SpaceX’s legal team failed to see this kind of legal challenge coming, and why, exactly, they believed that the enabling legislation which gave them the go-ahead to set up shop at Boca Chica somehow trumped the Open Beaches provisions of the state constitution.

    What makes you think they didn’t see it coming? SpaceX has been working on a Starship launch pad (stage zero) for a couple of years.

  • pzatchok

    The spirit of the open Beach law was so that no private companies could close beaches to the general public for any extended time.
    Like a hotel buying and closing a beach to all non customers.

    I do not think it says anything about temporary closers for safety reasons. Which would also happen when an oil or chemical spill happens or during a police investigation. Or during shark attacks.

    And there is, as far as I know, not a single bit of beach in that area. It is all wetlands and swamp. I do not think anyone goes there to sun bath or surf.

  • Milt

    To Edward and pzatchok —

    I think that pzatchok has it exactly right, and the legal argument from SpaceX will probably be couched in precisely these terms. That is, they will submit, based on longstanding precedent, that the Open Beaches Amendment allows enough “wiggle room” to accommodate temporary beach closures when it is in the *public interest* to do so. But will the Texas court rule that what SpaceX is doing — however vital to both the economy of Texas and to the national welfare — falls at least within the penumbra of the public interest provision? Likewise, will the court allow testing at Boca Chica to proceed for these reasons while this issue is litigated?

    As for the foresight of the SpaceX legal team, my thinking was that the Open Beaches Amendment, as part of the Texas Constitution, is legally determinant, and is strictures would ordinarily prevail over any conflicting provisions in the enabling legislation, land use regulations, zoning, etc., that were put in place to accommodate the company’s actions at Boca Chica. (But which, BTW, came first? The OBA or the provisions under which SpaceX operates?) In any case, SpaceX’s lawyers ought to have anticipated such challenges, and — hopefully — they are prepared to effectively defend both their client and the American people.

  • Milt: It is my understanding that the Open Beaches Amendment came first, and the extra provision to allow temporary closures for SpaceX launches came later.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Pzatchok – Just as a point of fact and reference there is a beach right at the end of the Boca Chica Beach Road. I walked the beach the day before the first attempt at IFT-1. If I could attach a picture, I could show you my son and I waving with stacked IFT-1 between us and taken from the beach looking up the dune.

    There are videos from various space YouTube sites that show having beach parties with the OLM in the background.

    We seem in Texas to vote on constitutional amendments about every other year. I think this one just bit Texas in the tail. Maybe an amendment could be turned around in a year to clarify intent. Maybe not because as written and interpreted it is exactly what the enviros and the democrat allies want.

  • Everitt Mickey

    Think outside the box.

    Consider off shore drilling platforms.

    Now consider and offshore launch platform.
    Consider an offshore launch platform outside the territorial limit.

    It might be cheaper than lawfare.

  • slicksister

    so don’t close the beaches. Just announce that during launch/testing events all beach activity is at your own risk. Let Darwin sort it out.

  • pzatchok

    Doubting Thomas

    Thanks for the correction. I have never looked it up before.

    I have only been to Padre Island and that was on a bad day for water quality. My trunks changed color. My girl friend wanted to go.

    Everitt Mickey

    As for offshore launch platforms. Sure they could work but think of just how large they would have to be to accommodate a whole launch site including. They would need blast proof buildings if they were going to be any smaller then the land based launch facilities.
    Then think about the manpower transportation problems. The materials transportation problems and the fuel transportation problems. Granted liquid gasses will not contaminate the water if spilled.

    And will they be built inside the view of the beach or outside? The waters get pretty deep that far out.. Imagine trying to lift Starship off of a moving boat going up and down. Unless you plan on manufacturing them out at sea.

    And in this day and age think about terrorists. They would love to blow one of those things up with a simple RPG off of a speed boat

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