BROWN CITY, Texas– The Federal Aviation Administration today declined to conduct a full environmental review of SpaceX’s planned launch site expansion in Boca Chica, Texas, despite calls from conservation organizations to take a closer look at the environmental impacts rocket launches.
The groups are concerned about the FAA’s assertion that use of the Boca Chica site will not have significant environmental impacts. Based on this assertion, the agency will not carry out an environmental impact study.
SpaceX intends to increase its use of the facility to launch dozens of superheavy spacecraft into orbit. The expansion plan, which requires FAA approval, will endanger endangered species like the piping plover and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.
Conservation groups note that construction and operation of the site will significantly increase light, heat and environmental pollution. The project will also increase the risk of forest fires due to rocket explosion. Several recent SpaceX explosions have damaged areas of critical habitat.
“SpaceX’s proposed mitigations are utterly inadequate and will not save Boca Chica’s incredibly important migratory bird habitat,” said Jared Margolis, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal aviation officials have shied away from responsibility, but the FAA has a legal obligation to closely examine the environmental damage of this expansion.”
The groups say the FAA must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and undertake a comprehensive analysis to assess and mitigate harm to endangered species, critical habitat, and other publicly trusted resources.
“The ocean, the waves and the beaches belong to everyone and everyone should have access to these special places,” said Sarah Damron, regional manager of the Surfrider Foundation. “The proposed SpaceX project would shut down the only public road connecting surrounding communities to Boca Chica Beach, the nearby state park and the National Wildlife Refuge, for up to 800 hours per year. This is almost three times longer than the number of hours currently allowed and would seriously prevent the public and local communities from accessing these important coastal resources.
“The diversity of endangered wildlife surrounding the SpaceX Boca Chica site is unlike any other place in the United States,” said Dr. Shari Wilcox, senior Texas representative at Defenders of Wildlife. “This area is home to rare and remarkable animals like ocelots, aplomado hawks and five different sea turtles. It deserves particular attention to the environmental impacts of these expanding activities.
The Boca Chica site is a small property surrounded by some of the most important migratory bird habitat in the United States. When migrating, species from the Central and Mississippi flyways converge on this area, making it a must stop for migrating birds. However, much of the region’s habitat has been lost, relegating these birds to remnant tracts.
The facility adjoins the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1979 specifically to connect and protect these isolated stretches of habitat. The Boca Chica expanse of the refuge is an important link in the wildlife corridor. Not only does it provide critical habitat for endangered birds, it is also one of the few nesting grounds for Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, one of the most endangered sea turtles in the world.