FAA Will Require SpaceX To Mitigate Environmental Impact Of Planned Launches

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The FAA is requiring SpaceX to take more than 75 actions to mitigate the potential environmental impact of its planned Starship/Super Heavy launch operations in Boca Chica, Texas, the agency announced on Monday. The requirements are the result of a recently completed environmental assessment conducted by the FAA as part of the decision-making process for SpaceX’s FAA Launch Operator License application. Aside from the mitigation requirements, the agency determined that the launch plans would not result in significant environmental consequences (PDF).

As per the FAA’s Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PDF), required mitigation actions include ongoing monitoring of vegetation and wildlife by a qualified biologist, ensuring notification of surrounding communities in advance about potential engine noise and sonic booms from launches, and coordinating with state or federal agencies to remove launch debris from sensitive habitats. The company will also be required to adjust the lighting at the launch complex to minimize its impact on wildlife and a nearby beach. The FAA emphasized that the environmental assessment is only one aspect of the launch operator license application process, noting that SpaceX must also meet its safety, risk and financial responsibility requirements before it will issue the license.

Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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41 COMMENTS

  1. Serious question: under what aspect of its charter does the FAA have authority with regard to things environmental? EPA? Sure. Department of the Interior? Probably. Department of agriculture? Possibly. But the FAA?

    I’m all in favor of Musk and Company not poisoning us (I live in Texas), but I just don’t see how the guys that make rules for aviation have either the qualifications or the authority to set environmental policy. It’s a bit like the EPA deciding to start certifying aircraft or designing approaches.

    • From what I can find, it relates to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which became law in 1970 and requires federal agencies to “give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that significantly affects the environment.” EPA does review NEPA findings. NEPA implementation is overseen by the Council on Environmental Quality (Executive Office of the President) and regulated by 40 CFR Parts 1500-1508.

    • A lot of people wonder about the FAA’s authority over the environment. But trust me, you don’t want the real EPA handling it. The launch pad lighting probably is all about the turtles at the beach. Swanky beach homes in Florida have long been annoyed with environmentalists and local government because they can have NO (not adjusted) outdoor decorative lighting for fear of disrupting turtle mating activities.

      • It’s not so much about disrupting the mating activities, it is about the results of such activities.

        Sea turtle hatchlings dig out of their nest at night, when the sand is cooler. Once out, they are attracted to the brightest light source – hopefully phosphorescence in the water, or the moon’s reflection on the surface. Artificial lights leave them dazed and confused, unable to find the safety of the ocean.

        [An ex-landlord of mine spends his time running a turtle rescue group down in Mexico].

  2. A government that pollutes with it’s vast military operations, it’s vast number of past nuclear tests, it’s use of insane amounts of fuel every day, IS CONCERNENED about a single rocket operator in far south Texas? Seriously? Seriously?

  3. The REAL news here is the FONSI – Findng Of No Significant Impact. Which opens the door for SpaceX to start orbital launches there.
    The mitigations are just small details within that finding.

    • Yep. And that should have been the headline, Ms. O’Connor, rather than one that feeds a perception of the FAA creating hurdles. Since 1969 all federal agencies, including the FAA, are required to assess the environmental impacts of projects that require their approval. The FAA here used the the expedited process allowed by law to consider the SpaceX project, found no significant impact and required only the most minimal mitigation that any responsible corporate entity would have undertaken without being told to do so.

  4. “The company will also be required to adjust the lighting at the launch complex to minimize its impact on wildlife and a nearby beach.” Good grief. The invasion of illegal aliens across the open Mexican border is a far greater risk to the environment and safety of Texans, and all Americans, thanks to Sleepy Joe. I have friends who are waiting for many weeks on the FAA to sign off on their homebuilt airplanes. They say you call and no one answers or returns your call. I guess they are too busy worrying about turtles? No wonder increasingly the Feds are seen as an expensive solution to non-existent problems and are ignored.

    • I lived in Satellite Beach for 12 years, on the same coast as NASA / Cape Canaveral. You could have any school kid look at a building at night and know if their lighting was in compliance with EPA regs w/r/t turtle nesting. IOW, the FAA didn’t have to spend a lot of time “worrying about turtles” in this case: walk the beach at night, and if you can see white lights, tell them they have to fix it.
      (And BTW, the previous administration’s efforts to fence off the “open Mexican border” were such an abject failure, and such an incredible waste of money, I’m shocked that anyone would complain about shutting it down.)

        • So her telling you to do what the law says makes her a “Karen”, why? Because you don’t like being told to do something? Because you don’t care about turtles? Because.. I don’t know – why?
          Most of us Floridians have at least some respect for the ocean and its inhabitants, and we’ve enacted laws to protect them. Keeping white light from being visible at the beach is one of those laws. Please follow it when you’re visiting the turtles.

      • I’m very irritated with this sort of nonsense where groups actively fight against something to slow, harass, or even stop it, and then they, and others of similar opinion, use the results of their vandalism as rhetorical tools to defeat the policy.

        This has been done in the case of the death penalty. Reasonable people can take either side, but if one uses the cost of fighting the endless lawsuits as a reason that the death penalty is bad policy, they should be ejected from the debate.

        I suggest you don’t try the same thing here.

          • 1. People against the wall/fence use many methods to stop the fence from being built.
            2. You, obviously also being against such fences, then use the fact the fence wasn’t easily built to show that the policy of building a fence is a bad idea.

            I don’t care what you think about Trump, or fences, that’s not civilized. Let me use an equivalent example in case it’s still hard to understand.

            1. People against the airport use constant legal and physical attacks on the airport endangering users and costing the city money.
            2. During discussions on closing the airport and replacing it with a golf course and condo development, the developer points out how unsafe the airport operations are, and that the lawsuits are draining city funds.

            Are we clear now, or is there something I’m missing? Should we tell the developers if they want to get the land under the airport, all they need to do is start endangering the aircraft with drones, lasers, rocks, and/or funding lawsuits against the airport?

  5. There is no such thing as a fair and just ruling regarding environmental issues with regard to the environmentalists!
    This ruling will now digress into a series of lawsuits and subsequent court rulings halting/delaying future launches.
    I’m sure SpaceX is well aware of that and is making plans to ferry Star Ships to the Cape.

    • They are building complete construction and launch facilities at the Cape already – there will almost certainly not be any shipping of launch vehicles between the two sites.
      Once the ocean platforms are ready, tings may change a bit, of course.

  6. Maybe move the launches to Russia, forgot, Obama already did that.
    All I can say is it’s a good thing all these government agency’s were not around when this country was developing into the greatest country on earth.
    Please tell me something that the government is NOT involved in.
    Pi#s off the democrats and you will pay the price, become a democrat and you can pollute, murder, burn, steal, violate the constitution, lie to your constituents, without punishment.
    Elon, become a silent follower and you can do anything you want.

    • Don’t let facts get in the way of a good rant.

      From Astronomy.com
      In 2004, President Bush gave a speech that outlined the end of the shuttle era, without clearly identifying what would come next (or how much it would cost). This decision left NASA in limbo, as they were suddenly dependent on the Russians for access to space

  7. Holy irony Batman!
    For those of you identifying with the latest repub transmogrification (and yes, the dems have their own morphing history also), here’s just a sample of some policies of your former members (my dear parents included) when it came to the consideration of citizens and the environment.

    – In 1864 Lincoln established the Yosemite Grant Act, a crowning environmental achievement. That law declared Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove — together totaling about 39,000 acres of gorgeous California wilderness — as protected areas, owned by the state, that must be kept pristine for public enjoyment.
    – Teddy Roosevelt created the National Park System, established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments on over 230 million acres of public land.
    – President Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Range “for the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values for all generations to come.”
    – Richard Nixon arguably did more than almost any president of either party to safeguard our air, water and wildlife. Nixon formed the Council on Environmental Quality, created the EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
    – George H.W. Bush passed a cap-and-trade program to curtail acid rain and signed the 1990 Clean Air Act.
    – George W. Bush instituted policies that helped reduce air pollution by 12 percent at the time, established stringent air quality standards and adopted rules that cut hazardous industrial emissions and cut power plant emissions, and signed an Executive Order making cooperative conservation the national policy of the United States, and directed Federal agencies to implement resource laws cooperatively with State, local and tribal governments, and the public.

    Dad served in the Italian theatre, but before that he toiled in the CCC’s – the program to put Americans back to work in sync with the Park Service. He told stories of how proud he was that everyone was considerate of the environment while they worked, saving plant and animal life at every opportunity, and had complete approval of it, all the way to the President. He also was instrumental in helping to install anti-pollution mitigations at the steel mill where he spent his working life. And he was a true, patriotic conservative and life-long Republican.

    Ironic his favorite artist, and mine, sang, ‘The times they are a’changin’. And, change is always good, right?

  8. Kate, thank you for including links to the original documents in your story. It is a practical way to let the interested reader find out more, by going to the underlying data. I wish more articles did this, in AVweb and beyond.