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Following a massive rocket explosion in South Texas, state and local environmental groups and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, Inc. yesterday sued the Federal Aviation Administration for failing to fully analyze and mitigate damage environmental impacts resulting from the launch of SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy program in Boca Chica.
The launch site is next to prime habitat for protected species and migratory birds, such as Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and piping plover. The first rocket launched from the site under the program exploded on April 20, flooding the surrounding area with particles.
The agency has authorized SpaceX to launch 20 Starship/Super Heavy rockets each year for the next five years. They are the biggest rockets ever made, and they are being launched right next to crucial habitat, putting wildlife in grave danger and harming community interests. Despite acknowledging the damage caused by SpaceX’s construction and launch activities, the FAA decided to forego a full environmental review, saying the damage would not be “significant” due to the proposed mitigation measures. .
The lawsuit argues that the agency’s proposed mitigation is not sufficient to prevent the launch program from causing significant environmental harm. The agency did not explain how the mitigation would address and prevent rocket explosions and fires that could wipe out nearby habitat. The lawsuit calls for a comprehensive environmental analysis to truly protect threatened and endangered species and ensure public beach access for all.
“It’s vital that we protect life on Earth even as we look to the stars in this modern age of spaceflight,” said Jared Margolis, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal officials should stand up for vulnerable wildlife and frontline communities, not give a free pass to corporate interests that want to use precious coastal landscapes as a dumping ground for space trash.”
The SpaceX Starship explosion last month scattered debris across hundreds of acres of land near prime nesting habitat for Bobwhite Quail (pictured) and shorebirds like the Snowy Plover Photo by Justin LeClaire/Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (CBBEP)
Surrounded by natural areas
SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch site is surrounded by state parks, National Wildlife Refuge lands and important habitat for endangered wildlife including Piping Plovers, Northern Aplomado Falcons, jaguarundi from the Gulf Coast, critically endangered ocelots and sea turtles.
Rocket launches and explosions cause significant damage due to increased vehicular traffic and the intense heat, noise, and light pollution resulting from construction and launch activities. Rocket blasts spread debris in the surrounding habitat and sparked bushfires.
The Boca Chica region is one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America. Bird species from the Central and Mississippi Flyways converge here, making it an essential wintering and stopover habitat for migrating birds as they move north and south each year. Shorebirds show the most dramatic population declines of any bird group. It’s also one of the few places where Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle – the world’s most endangered sea turtle – comes ashore to nest on safe haven beaches in the spring and summer.
“Right now, most people know that birds are in serious decline – and shorebirds like those that depend on Boca Chica are among the fastest disappearing,” said Mike Parr, president of the ‘American Bird Conservancy. “Overall, we’ve lost nearly 3 billion birds in the United States and Canada since 1970. At what point do we say, ‘Space exploration is great, but we need to save the habitats here on Earth priority?” For the sake of future generations, let’s protect the healthy habitats we have left instead of treating them as trash for pollution and the airframe.
Reduced public access
The SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy project also significantly reduces the public’s ability to access and enjoy the refuge and parks adjacent to the project site. This includes Boca Chica State Park and Beach, a popular public beach on an 8-mile stretch of sand. It is one of the few undeveloped and free public beaches in the area, and the closest to the town of Brownsville. The project would close the only public road connecting surrounding communities to the Boca Chica area for up to 800 hours per year, severely preventing the public and local communities from accessing the beach and important public trust resources.
“Eight hundred hours of closure is against the Texas Open Beaches Act, the state constitution, and the rights of Texans to free and unrestricted access to Texas beaches,” said Sarah Damron, senior regional manager of the Surfrider Foundation. “It’s the equivalent of 20 to 40 hours of work per year that Texans and visitors will be deprived of access to Boca Chica beach. What’s worse is that these closures can happen at almost any time with little or no notice to the public, so the beach, park grounds and refuge lands are ostensibly closed to anyone who needs help. make plans. This is an unacceptable loss for the people of the region and for the people of Texas.
These closures have a significant impact on the local community, including the ability of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation to hold traditional ceremonies and leave offerings for their ancestors.
“Use ancestral lands as a sacrifice zone for rockets”
“The sacred lands of the Carrizo/Comecrudo people are once again under threat from imperialist policies that treat our cultural heritage as less valuable than corporate interests,” said Juan Mancias, tribal chairman of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, Inc. “Boca Chica is at the heart of our creative history. But we have been cut off from the land our ancestors have lived on for thousands of years because of SpaceX, which uses our ancestral lands as a sacrifice zone for its rockets.
Rockets explode frequently at the Boca Chica site, with at least eight explosions in the past five years. The agency expects many more explosions to occur over the next five years. This puts people and wildlife at great risk, as shown by a recent fire caused by a super heavy rocket explosion that burned 68 acres of the adjacent National Wildlife Refuge, and another fire that burned 150 acres in July 2019 .
“The administration’s failure to fully analyze the dangers of a rocket test launch and manufacturing facility just steps from the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge and two state parks is a decision surprisingly bad,” said Save RGV board member Mary Angela Branch. “So many threatened and endangered species rely on the agency to get it right.”
The complaint also argues that the agency failed to fully consider the climate harms of fueling rockets with liquid methane — a potent greenhouse pollutant that may need to be vented into the atmosphere — and other community concerns.
The lawsuit was filed in the federal district court in Washington, DC, by the Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, Save RGV, and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, Inc.