Environmental groups and the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas have filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration after SpaceX’s Starship blew up during a launch at its Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, last month.
The explosion obliterated the launch pad, sending dust and debris flying for miles. Ash scatted over areas where endangered species live, according to the complaint filed in federal district court in Washington, DC, today. The explosion also sparked a 3.5-acre blaze, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The suit alleges that the FAA failed to “take a hard look” at the environmental risks posed by SpaceX’s operations in Boca Chica, as it was required to do under the National Environmental Policy Act. The groups are worried that heightened fire risk, pollution, light, and heat from the program will affect the surrounding environment. “Permitting SpaceX to launch the largest rockets known to humankind is the type of significant federal action that requires full analysis,” the document says.
“Permitting SpaceX to launch the largest rockets known to humankind is the type of significant federal action that requires full analysis”
And yet the FAA allowed SpaceX to submit a more limited assessment instead of a more comprehensive environmental review after determining that launches would not have a significant impact on the nearby environment. The plaintiffs are now pushing the agency to complete that full review. They also allege that the FAA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to fully assess alternatives, including launching rockets from the Kennedy Space Center instead of Boca Chica.
The launch site, which now reportedly looks like a demolition zone, sits within one of the most biologically diverse parts of the continent where several endangered and protected species live. That includes Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and the piping plover, a little shorebird that nests on sandy beaches. There’s also the critically endangered ocelot that is considered sacred to the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation, according to the complaint.
“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,” Juan Mancias, tribal chair of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of Texas, says in a press release. The plaintiffs are also concerned about losing access to Boca Chica State Park and Beach since launches shut down the key public roadway to the area.
The FAA previously permitted SpaceX to launch up to 20 rockets a year over the next five years at Boca Chica. In the past five years, at least eight rockets have exploded at the site, according to the complaint.
In an email to The Verge, the FAA says it “does not comment on ongoing litigation matters.” SpaceX did not immediately respond to an inquiry from The Verge. SpaceX is not listed as a defendant in the suit since it focuses on the FAA’s responsibility to adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock environmental law in the United States that ensures that communities can review environmental assessments and give their feedback.