Environmental organizations and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas have taken legal action against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) following the explosion of SpaceX’s Starship during a launch at its Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, last month. The blast resulted in the destruction of the launch pad and caused dust and debris to scatter over vast distances. The complaint filed in a federal district court in Washington, DC, today, states that ash landed on areas inhabited by endangered species. Additionally, the explosion started a 3.5-acre blaze, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The lawsuit argues that the FAA did not fulfill its obligation under the National Environmental Policy Act to carefully evaluate the environmental risks related to SpaceX’s operations in Boca Chica. The groups are concerned that the program’s increased fire hazard, pollution, light, and heat could have negative impacts on the surrounding environment. The complaint asserts that allowing SpaceX to launch the most massive rockets known to humanity is a significant federal action that requires complete analysis.
Despite the concerns raised by environmental groups and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, the FAA allowed SpaceX to submit a more limited assessment instead of a comprehensive environmental review. The FAA concluded that launches would not have a significant impact on the surrounding environment. However, the plaintiffs are now urging the agency to complete a full review, alleging that the FAA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to evaluate alternatives, such as launching rockets from the Kennedy Space Center instead of Boca Chica.
The launch site is situated in one of the most biologically diverse regions of the continent, home to several endangered and protected species like the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, piping plover, and critically endangered ocelot. The ocelot is considered sacred to the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation, according to the complaint. The lawsuit highlights that Boca Chica holds significant cultural and spiritual significance to the community. However, the launch site has become a sacrifice zone for SpaceX’s rockets, cutting off the community from their ancestral lands, says Juan Mancias, the tribal chair of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas.
The complaint also raises concerns that the launch shut down the key public roadway to the area, which would result in losing access to Boca Chica State Park and Beach. In the past five years, the site has seen at least eight rockets explode, despite the FAA previously permitting SpaceX to launch up to 20 rockets a year over the next five years at Boca Chica.