In the wake of a SpaceX explosion that coated coastal Texas in ash, environmental organizations on Monday filed a federal lawsuit intended to safeguard local wildlife from more "exploding rockets" and ensure residents' access to regional beaches and parks.
"It's vital that we protect life on Earth even as we look to the stars in this modern era of spaceflight," declared Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Federal officials should defend vulnerable wildlife and frontline communities, not give a pass to corporate interests that want to use treasured coastal landscapes as a dumping ground for space waste."
The Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, Save RGV, and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas are suing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — and Billy Nolen, the acting administration planning to leave the post this summer — for permitting billionaire Elon Musk's space company to conduct 20 rocket launches over the next five years.
"For the sake of future generations, let's protect the healthy habitats we have left instead of treating them as wasteplaces for pollution and fuselage."
The Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket, collectively called Starship, is "the world's most powerful launch vehicle ever developed," according to SpaceX — which conducted the first test flight on April 20, an event ending with an explosion that sent debris raining down miles away from the launch site.
The green groups' complaint argues that the FAA "has authorized the SpaceX Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program at Boca Chica, Texas, without complying with bedrock federal environmental law, without fully analyzing the significant environmental and community impacts of the SpaceX launch program — including destruction of some of the most vital migratory bird habitats in North America — and without requiring mitigation sufficient to offset those impacts."
American Bird Conservancy president Mike Parr pointed out that "by now, most people know that birds are in serious declines — and shorebirds like those that rely on Boca Chica are among the fastest-disappearing."
"Overall, we've lost nearly 3 billion birds from the United States and Canada since 1970. At what point do we say, 'Space exploration is great, but we need to save habitats here on Earth as a top priority?'" Parr asked. "For the sake of future generations, let's protect the healthy habitats we have left instead of treating them as wasteplaces for pollution and fuselage."
The region is vital to not only bird species such as piping plovers and northern aplomado falcons but also Gulf Coast jaguarundi, ocelots, and critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles. The launch site is located near state and federal conservation, park, and recreation lands.
"The administration's failure to fully analyze the dangers of a rocket test launch and manufacturing facility mere steps from the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge and two state parks is an astonishingly bad decision," said Mary Angela Branch, a board member at Save RGV. "So many threatened and endangered species are counting on the agency to get this right."
The SpaceX project will shut down a roadway used to access spots such as the Boca Chica Beach for up to hundreds of hours per year. Sarah Damron, senior regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, said that "800 hours of closure fly in the face of the Texas Open Beaches Act, the state constitution, and Texans' rights to free and unrestricted access to Texas beaches."
"That's the equivalent of 20 40-hour work weeks every year that Texans and visitors will be deprived of access to Boca Chica Beach," Damon explained. "What's worse is that these closures can happen at almost any time with little to no notice to the public, so the beach, park lands, and refuge lands are ostensibly closed to anyone who needs to make plans. This is an unacceptable loss to area residents and to the people of Texas."
Juan Mancias, tribal chair of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, highlighted how the SpaceX project also impacts the ability of his people to hold ceremonies and leave offerings for their ancestors.
"The Carrizo/Comecrudo people's sacred lands are once again being threatened by imperialist policies that treat our cultural heritage as less valuable than corporate interests," said Mancias.
"Boca Chica is central to our creation story. But we have been cut off from the land our ancestors lived on for thousands of years due to SpaceX, which is using our ancestral lands as a sacrifice zone for its rockets."