Several conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), challenging its decision to approve SpaceX’s expanded rocket launch operations without conducting a more comprehensive environmental study. The latest FAA license granted to SpaceX has allowed its next-generation Starship rocket to be tested on its first flight. However, the mission ended with the vehicle exploding over the Gulf of Mexico, causing extensive damage at the launch site and a fire in the nearby area.
The conservation groups have claimed that the explosion is the latest in a series of incidents that have disrupted a haven for federally protected wildlife and vital habitat for migratory birds. They also argue that the noise and light pollution, construction and road traffic have degraded the area, which is home to two endangered feline predators, as well as nesting sites for the endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and critical habitat for the piping plover, a threatened shorebird.
The FAA’s approval of expanded operations at Musk’s Starbase in Boca Chica without conducting a full environmental impact study (EIS) has violated federal law, according to the lawsuit. Such EIS reviews typically take years or decades to complete, involving extensive analysis of the project at stake, alternatives, mitigation plans to curb or offset harmful impacts, and public review and comment, often requiring re-evaluation and supplemental study.
Instead, the FAA granted its license based on a far less thorough environmental assessment and a finding that SpaceX activities at Boca Chica pose “no significant impact” on the environment. The lawsuit highlights the history of tension between environmentalists, who have sought to limit development at Boca Chica, and Musk, the billionaire SpaceX founder and CEO known as a hard-charging entrepreneur willing to take risks.
The conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the American Bird Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, Save RGV (Rio Grand Valley), and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation, have filed a 31-page lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia. They seek a court order to vacate the finding of no significant impact and require a full EIS before further launches are conducted. There was no immediate comment available from the FAA or SpaceX.